School rezoning continues to vex Downtown families

[media-credit name=”Downtown Express photo by Aline Reynolds ” align=”aligncenter” width=”600″][/media-credit]

Joel Roodman and Jill Tafrate, with their son, Max, remain concerned over the D.O.E’s latest rezoning plan that could keep Max from attending the Spruce Street School in the bottom of the Gehry building only a few blocks from their home.

BY  ALINE REYNOLDS  |  Four-year-old Max Roodman might not be able to attend the school a stone’s throw away from his home next year due to the imminent rezoning of Lower Manhattan’s public schools.

Roodman’s parents, Joel Roodman and Jill Tafrate, are dismayed by the prospect of sending their child to P.S. 234 in Tribeca, where their fourth grade daughter Sophia goes to school. Max, who lives at 85 John St., is one of more than 50 P.S. 234 siblings that will be automatically offered a seat there due to the city Department of Education’s preference-granting to younger siblings of current elementary school students.

It is as much out of principle as it is convenience that Max deserves to attend P.S. 397, where he is enrolled in pre-kindergarten this year, according to his parents.

“He’ll continue to walk by the school every day, see his friends, and not be with them anymore,” said Tafrate. “We watched Spruce be built for the last five years from our own window, and now we’re having it pulled out from underneath us.”

“We probably would have left Max in private day care this year, which takes up a full day, had we known that he couldn’t go to Spruce next year,” chimed in Roodman.

Now, the father explained, he or Tafrate have to baby-sit their son in the afternoons, since P.S. 397’s pre-K class lets out before noon.

“We feel like we’ve been excised from a community we’ve been in for so many years and supported [through] our taxes,” said Roodman.

A week after the D.O.E.’s third rezoning proposal was approved, which zoned the Roodmans and a group of other families out of P.S. 397, the couple reached out to the D.O.E. requesting a waiver for Max to matriculate into the school’s kindergarten class. In a Jan. 6 letter addressed to Max’s parents, a spokesperson of NYC Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott responded, stating that out-of-zone students such as Max will not receive priority for kindergarten enrollment at P.S. 397.

“Please be advised that pre-kindergarten students no longer zoned to the Spruce Street School do not automatically matriculate into kindergarten,” the letter reads. “Instead, pre-kindergarten students will be provided a seat at their new zoned school.”

However, spokesperson Frank Thomas said the D.O.E. is contemplating making an exception for the Roodmans and the other Spruce Street pre-kindergartners. Giving kindergarten students preference based on their pre-k attendance “is not a policy that’s permitted any longer in individual schools,” according to Thomas, citing a 2009 D.O.E. regulation.

“What is undecided is if these students will get any preference over other out-of-zone students who have always been out of the zone,” Thomas continued. “There was some ongoing conversation about whether they can make an exception in this school, but that hasn’t been decided yet.”

In a recent resolution, Community Education Council District Two asked the D.O.E. to consider admitting current Spruce Street pre-k students into the kindergarten class if additional seats remain once students in the school’s new zone are accommodated.

“The D.O.E.’s not obligated to follow that particular recommendation, because it’s not a zoning issue,” said C.E.C. District Two President Shino Tanikawa, “but we [included it in the resolution] because residents who lived next door to Spruce felt a certain level of emotional investment in the school.”

Due to the uncertainty, P.S. 397 parent Yanet Cruz is thinking about moving with her four-year-old son, Logan, out of the neighborhood.

“We’re in limbo at this moment, and it’s quite stressful,” said Cruz. “I’m feeling pretty bummed that we have to go somewhere else. I don’t see why he can’t continue in the school.”

William Street resident Mark Rasso and his four-year-old son, David, are in the same boat.

“We’re applying to Spruce, although we’ve been told by their administration that the odds aren’t good,” said Rasso. “I thought it would have been more of an intelligent solution that would allow anyone currently in the zone at Spruce to continue their journey.”

Pre-k grandfathering wasn’t an issue during Downtown’s last rezoning in 2009, according to various sources. The only school that even had a pre-k at the time was P.S. 89, noted Eric Greenleaf, a former member of C.E.C. District Two’s zoning committee.

“A lot of the people who were going to pre-k at P.S. 89 that were put into the 276 [due to the rezoning] preferred going to 276 because it was closer to where they lived,” said Greenleaf. “People who would have been most inconvenienced were people who had an older sibling in P.S. 89, but I didn’t hear an uproar about that.”