B.P.C. parents demand 6th grade opens next year in new school

By Julie Shapiro

The city plans to open the new K-8 school in Battery Park City with only kindergarten and first grade classes in 2010, the Dept. of Education reaffirmed this week.

Many P.S. 89 parents thought the school, P.S./I.S. 276, would also open with a sixth grade, but the D.O.E. plans to phase in each new grade one year at a time, meaning the sixth grade won’t open until 2015, said Will Havemann, spokesperson for the D.O.E. However, Havemann said the D.O.E. still has time to change that plan.

“We would absolutely consider opening middle school seats early…if necessary,” Havemann said. “If we need to open the seats early, we will do so.”

Parents of fourth graders in Battery Park City, who were counting on sending their children to P.S./I.S. 276 in 2010, were upset to hear that the middle school seats were not a sure thing for next year.

“It makes you very anxious,” said Deborah Somerville, whose son Jackson is in fourth grade at P.S. 89. “We thought it was a done deal.”

She and other parents were surprised last week by a Downtown Express article in which the D.O.E. said it was not planning to open a sixth grade in the new school next year.

Somerville lives in southern B.P.C. near the new school and said Jackson and his friends have been watching the construction, talking about how they will go to 276 for sixth grade. Somerville said it is particularly important for the sixth grade to open to neighborhood children soon, because Baruch, the only middle school where Lower Manhattan children are automatically accepted, is up on E. 21st St., nearly an hour away from B.P.C. by public transportation.

“There should be a [middle] school where children are guaranteed [a seat] in their neighborhood,” Somerville said. “There is no school zoned Downtown.”

Havemann said the D.O.E. understands that parents want to send their children to schools close to home, and the D.O.E. will consider that when deciding when to start the middle school at P.S./I.S. 276. The D.O.E. also plans to wait until 2015 to start a sixth grade at Downtown’s other new K-8, the Spruce Street School, but that plan is also open to change, Havemann said.

“It’s insane if they don’t do that,” Jeff Mihok, a P.S. 89 parent, said of the D.O.E. opening sixth grades as soon as possible. Mihok lives across the street from P.S./I.S. 276 and hoped his fourth-grade daughter would be able to go there in 2010.

“It’s a no-brainer,” said Mihok, who is also a Community Board 1 member. “You want to open it. The community desperately needs it.”

The D.O.E. recently floated the idea of moving the Greenwich Village Middle School into P.S./I.S. 276 temporarily starting in 2010. While the principals of the two schools don’t seem to mind, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has come out against the proposal and some parents who want the seats reserved for local children are protesting it as well. The D.O.E. will not make a decision on Greenwich Village Middle School until the fall.

While local parents look ahead for middle school seats, the more immediate question is about admissions for this fall, when P.S./I.S. 276 and the Spruce Street School will open with just kindergarten classes at an incubator in Tweed Courthouse. The schools are opening early to relieve overcrowding at P.S. 89 and P.S. 234. The applications closed last Friday, and one day earlier, the D.O.E. presented preliminary figures to parents at Silver’s taskforce on school overcrowding.

Two people who were at the meeting gave the figures to Downtown Express, but the final tabulations have not been made yet and it could be complicated to sort through because the application process changed in the middle. Parents who applied to P.S. 89 or P.S. 234 were originally told to rank their choices, but subsequently, parents were told to fill out separate applications for Tweed and their currently zoned school if they were interested in both.

One of the people at last week’s meeting, Tricia Joyce from P.S. 234’s overcrowding committee, said it looked like more children had applied to P.S. 234 than the school can fit. That means some children will likely be selected by lottery to attend the new schools at least for one year, Joyce said, but the D.O.E. said that conclusion was premature.

As of last Thursday, 231 children had applied for 125 seats at P.S. 234, Joyce said. Of those, about 45 children also applied to the Spruce Street School, meaning they likely will go there rather than P.S. 234. That leaves about 60 children who wanted to go to P.S. 234 but won’t be able to go, Joyce said, emphasizing that the numbers are not final.

Also as of Thursday, P.S. 89 had received 96 applications for about 75 seats, according to a person who attended Silver’s meeting but did not want to give his name. It is unclear how many of those 96 children also applied to P.S. 276.

The city has also received about 95 applications for the incubator in Tweed Courthouse, almost evenly split between P.S. 276 and the Spruce Street School, Joyce said. Since parents could apply to both Tweed and one of the existing schools, these 95 applications likely include many duplicates, i.e. children who also applied to P.S. 89 or P.S. 234.

As Joyce explained the numbers, she pointed out that the confusion surrounding them reflects the confusion parents felt as they tried to navigate the application process.

Although the numbers are preliminary, Joyce said it looks like every kindergartener will have a seat — the question is just where that seat will be.

“My hope is when the dust settles everyone will be where they want to be,” Joyce said.

The D.O.E. expects to have final numbers next week and begin notifying parents.