|Student Hope board at PS 88 photo credit: Chauncy Young|
DOE officials are trying to close a small, beloved K-3 zoned school in District 9 in the Bronx, PS 88, also called CES 88 or the Silverstein Little Sparrow School. They want to leave the entire building empty and send the current students to PS 53, a 4th-5th grade school blocks away. Why?
They claim that the school has lost enrollment this year, but so have 60% of all NYC public schools. They claim the school is under-enrolled, but this ignores that the school utilization formula is aligned with class sizes larger than the state's highest court in the CFE lawsuit said were necessary for a sound basic education. The DOE refused to revise the school utilization formula to allow for smaller classes, despite the fact that their own advisory Blue Book Working group urged them to do so.
Instead, PS 88's relatively low enrollment and available classroom space has meant that their students have been able to attend school in person five days a week during the pandemic, complete with small classes and social distancing, in nearly ideal learning conditions especially for a high-poverty school. If these kids are shunted off to PS 53, their class sizes will likely double and fewer kids will be able to attend in person, that is if the safety protocols require any social distancing in the fall.
Moreover, if DOE officials are really so concerned about the school's under-enrollment, all they have to do is add a 3K and/or a preK class to the school, neither of which it currently has though strangely, they did insert preK classes into PS 53, sharing that building with 4th and 5th graders.
Alternatively, they could also rezone the neighborhood, so that more children now attending the Walton Avenue School (09X294) and Lucero Elementary School (09X311) just a few blocks away would no longer have to be subjected to extreme overcrowding. Currently those schools are at 125% and 111% utilization rates respectively, and both are forced to use trailers as classrooms.
In short, the proposal to close PS 88 and leave this building empty seems arbitrary and capricious, and especially heedless during a pandemic.
Officials told the Daily News that the vote to close PS 88 has now been taken off the agenda for the Panel for Educational Policy April 28 meeting, to be considered during their May 19 meeting instead. Many other co-locations are going ahead as before, despite the need for smaller classes and social distancing next year.
Meanwhile, the DOE continues to maintain it can legally close this zoned school without a vote of the Community Education Council in District 9, though according to state law, CECs have the final authority to approve or disapprove any changes in zoning lines. The wholesale elimination of a zoned school surely can be seen as a radical revision of zoning lines.
Parents successfully blocked the closure of the zoned PS 25 in Brooklyn when the DOE wanted to give the entire building to Success Academy charters, while refusing to put the proposal to a vote of CEC 16. Let's hope the DOE changes course before parents at PS 88 are forced to take this issue to court again.
A video excerpt from Friday's press conference outside the school is below, with the comments of Husein Yatabarry, a former student at the school who is now a teacher and a board member of Neighborhood United.