WEST HARLEM— The city Department of Education scrapped a contentious proposal to co-locate two Harlem schools after parents from both schools criticized the plan and pushed to provide their own alternative.
Students from Teachers College Community School will now stay in its current building at 168 Morningside Ave., after the department quashed its own plan to temporarily house overflow students from TCCS — whose space is currently more than 200 percent over capacity — inside the nearby P.S. 36 at 123 Morningside Drive.
This past February, the proposal went before the Panel for Educational Policy at a meeting in Brooklyn, where dozens of parents from both schools spoke out against it, urging the group not to be a “rubber stamp” for the department before the panel tabled the vote.
At the meeting, parents unveiled their own solution: TCCS would stay in its current building and not admit any new students to its planned middle school, only accept kindergarten and pre-K students and have the department spend additional time, over the next school year, to find more space for the school.
Now, the DOE has agreed to the parents’ proposal.
“Community feedback has been a critical part of this process and in listening to families from both schools, we’ve decided to withdraw the current co-location proposal,” said Michael Aciman, a DOE spokesman.
Laurie Kindred, the co-president of TCCS parents’ association, who pushed for the alternative proposal, reluctantly applauded the decision.
“It is a success on our part, but it is a small success,” she said. “It still doesn’t solve the entire issue.”
“The DOE still has to step forward and find space.”
She said the school will move its current fifth graders into a new sixth grade in the new school year without admitting new students.
But, she said, parents at TCCS are fretting that if the DOE drops the ball again those middle school students might have to enroll in new schools, or the school would have to cut class sizes to keep students in the building.
“We should have a successful middle school in the district and DOE promised this,” she said. “We will probably lose our science lab and or our library, but we will make that work.”
Kindred said TCCS has also tried to work with Teachers College, who partnered with DOE to create the school, as well as Columbia University to find space as they expand into the neighborhood — but to no avail.
“With the amount of new construction and buildings that Columbia is building in the area, why hasn’t it been a part of their community benefits agreement… to provide space?” she asked. “They should give precedent to a community in which they are encroaching upon.”
James Gardner, a spokesman for Teachers College, said the school has "exhausted all potentially available options" after searching for space for the past two years.
"[Teachers College] itself has no space on its compact campus that would meet the needs of a public school with respect to security, accessibility, and space configuration," he said. "We will continue to work with elected officials and NYCDOE in finding a workable, permanent solution."
Columbia University did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A parent who spoke on the condition of anonymity also questioned why the DOE could not find space since “they’ve given DOE space to charter schools and here they have a successful DOE school and space isn’t available.”
The fallout from the initial DOE proposal also, for parents at P.S. 36, underscored the disparity in resources between the schools and in the district overall.
Parents have told city education officials at public meetings about their children using milk crates for bookshelves, run-down school furniture and a playground in need of repairs, among other issues.
Sanayi Beckles-Canton, the president of District 5 Community Education Council, which both schools belong to, said the issue is rooted in the district being “neglected” by the DOE.
“The problem is money and the problem is race,” she said, noting that District 5 is majority African American and Hispanic.
At a past public meeting, she told officials they should stop "playing these games with poor, black, brown and working families."
“They would have never done this in District 1 or District 2 or 3," she added.
“I think the unfortunate thing is if people don’t keep their foot to the pedal, then those kids at TCCS are going to suffer and the kids at [P.S.] 36 are going to continue to suffer.”
She said she will continue to mobilize parents in the district to hold the DOE “accountable” to get resources for the district.
“They have been building schools for over a hundred years, this isn’t rocket science,” she said.
The DOE said that it will work with P.S. 36 and TCCS to provide the schools with the needed resources, including new classroom furniture and playground repairs at P.S. 36.
“We will continue to work with the TCCS and P.S. 36 communities to ensure that each school has the support and resources they need to best serve students,” Aciman, the DOE spokesman said.