Testimony of New York State Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh on the Department of Education’s Proposal for a Significant Change in the Utilization of School Building M047
As the Assemblymember for the 74th Assembly District, I represent the American Sign Language & English Lower School and Secondary School (the “ASL Schools”), which includes students from P.S. 47, P.S. 347, and P.S. 138. As you know, the student body of 47 and 347 is comprised of deaf and hard of hearing students, children and siblings of deaf family members, and hearing students, a combination unique in the United States. The students of P.S. 138, a District 75 school, have special needs, including severe mobility challenges.
On February 8th, I sent a letter to Chancellor Joel Klein with Senator Tom Duane, Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Borough President Scott Stringer, Senator Liz Krueger, and Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, calling on the Department of Education (DOE) to withdraw the proposal to relocate the P.S. 138 satellite housed at P.S. 33 to the ASL Schools – a prior proposal intended to address the needs of P.S. 11 students that are the apparent motivation for the proposal that is the subject of tonight’s hearing. The intent to shift additional children with acute special needs into a building that already struggles to accommodate its special-needs population due to broken-down elevators, narrow hallways, and crowded shared spaces rendered that proposal so egregiously misguided that DOE soon dropped the idea, a decision that I applauded. However, the proposals that have followed have failed to provide solutions that are either palatable or fair.
While I understand that families of students at both Clinton School for Writers & Artists (“Clinton”) and P.S. 11 are concerned about crowded conditions in the building on the Westside, I cannot stand by while the families, students, and staff of the school communities here in my district are seemingly pushed aside to accommodate the flagrantly poor planning of DOE. Moreover, while I am pleased that DOE has successfully purchased a site for Clinton’s permanent relocation, which can now occur in the next 4 or 5 years, I have serious reservations regarding the feasibility of housing nearly 300 new students in the ASL Schools building in a manner that will permit all 4 schools to succeed and thrive.
There are many serious problems with the current DOE proposal: from squeezing over 270 students into spaces presently utilized by 74 students of the departing Quest to Learn school; sacrificing sufficient and adequate use of the science lab, gym, cafeteria, music and art spaces, auditorium, and administrative and programming offices for all 4 schools involved, resulting in shared programming that will jeopardize students’ ability to graduate; forcing ASL students to crowd into smaller and fewer classrooms – particularly those in the lower school, 347, who will be surrendering 5 classrooms in this plan – which may imperil their necessarily visual learning style; prohibiting the ASL Schools from expanding, which they were promised by DOE upon completion of the incubation of Quest to Learn a year ago; and potentially endangering all in the building in case of evacuation or emergency due to crowding, narrow hallways and stairwells, and inadequate safe room windows and fire safety plans.
Lastly, I have considerable reservations about the perceived priority that this proposal appears to grant to P.S. 11 over the needs of 4 other schools. The students currently attending the ASL Schools are far needier in several respects than the P.S. 11 students. I already mentioned the special needs of many of the students at the ASL Schools. They also have significantly greater financial need than the students of P.S. 11, with over 85 percent of the students currently in the ASL Schools building living below the poverty level. The ASL Schools should warrant as much special consideration in this context as any other school that serves disadvantaged populations.
It’s also clear that DOE is today putting us in the unfortunate position of having to decide whether to prioritize students in P.S. 11’s successful Gifted & Talented (G&T) program over a group of needier students with special needs, and the unique programs that serve them well at the ASL Schools. Of the 27 sections for which P.S. 11 currently programs, as stated by DOE’s Educational Impact Statement, 11 are G&T classes, many of which have fewer than 20 students per class. G&T classes are not zoned for a particular school, but are district-wide, and we understand that many of the students at P.S. 11 are not residents of the zone served by the school and would not otherwise be in attendance at this school were it not for the generous allocation of space for the G&T program.
While P.S. 11 is a strong school that should be applauded for its successes, we cannot serve the needs of one school at the cost of severely disadvantaging others. And let’s not forget that P.S. 47 attained a DOE grade of “A” this past year.
School space in Manhattan is limited and overcrowded. We all know that. Yet, inadequate planning is not an appropriate reason to relocate one school across town into a space that cannot accommodate the needs of all 4 schools that would be co-located together. I call on DOE today to consider further alternatives to this proposal, even if Clinton must remain at P.S. 11 for an additional year, in order to determine the best interim solution.
Whatever the solution for P.S. 11 and Clinton, I vehemently oppose the current proposal. It undermines the learning opportunities and safety of 3 schools within my district that are currently succeeding in serving students, many with special needs, from pre-k to high school against the odds of poverty, overcrowding, and academic and physical challenges.