Politicians and parents took to the streets Tuesday to publicly oppose the city’s plan to bus displaced students from PS 11 in Woodside to a temporary spot in Astoria while their school’s mini-building expansion is completed.
The city announced an expansion plan at PS 11 earlier this year with hopes of easing overcrowding there and ruled that affected students would be bused to PS 171 in Astoria in the interim. A group of Queens heavy-hitters took to the Woodside school early Tuesday morning with hopes of drawing more attention to their pleas that the Education Department reconsiders its position.
“I am truly disappointed the DOE has decided to move forward on a plan to bus kindergarteners to a school almost three miles away – an extraordinary hardship for Woodside families,” U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Queens, Bronx) said outside the Woodside school Tuesday morning. “While the expansion of PS 11 is a crucial investment in our children’s education, we cannot allow its construction to displace our youngest students so far from home. I call on the DOE to reconsider their decision and find a creative solution to do right by these students and their families.”
Crowley stood with other elected officials, including state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria), state Assemblywoman Marge Markey (D-Maspeth), state Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan (D-Astoria) and others to make sure parents knew what was to come.
“The planned expansion for PS 11 is a giant step in the fight against school overcrowding, but the DOE seems intent on making the worst out of a great situation by ignoring the concerns of students and parents,” Gianaris said. “All of us here today are ready to work together to find a solution without making parents’ lives harder, but the DOE does not seem interested in listening.”
In an attempt to address the serious overcrowding problems that have long plagued the school at 54-25 Skillman Ave., the city is adding 300 seats in an annex at PS 11 in a construction project slated to begin in the summer of 2014. But, because the city has to remove a little more than a couple hundred seats at PS 211 in order to build the annex, about 230 kindergarten students are expected to be bussed about 2.5 miles to PS 171 in Astoria every day for class. The city Panel for Educational Policy has to greenlight this plan before it can move forward.
After the PEP postponed its vote on PS 11 earlier this year, the elected officials at Tuesday’s event sent a letter to Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña last month urging the DOE to reassess its plan to relocate students, but to no avail.
“This decision is a cruel and heartless one,” Markey said. “It seems impossible to me that after we called it to their attention that the DOE is deliberately choosing to send these youngest P.S. 11 children on a three mile bus ride at rush hour in their first year at school. All of us join with their parents to plead once again for the Chancellor to intervene to reconsider this ill-advised busing plan and find alternative space for these young P.S. 11 children closer to home.”
PS 11 parent Martin Connolly said the plan was bad news for his children at the school and helped spearhead a petition against the plan.
“It just doesn’t make sense to do this,” he said. “We hope the local leadership will continue to work to come up with a better solution.”
PS 171 in Astoria is a roughly 30-minute bus ride away from Woodside’s PS 11 and more than seven blocks from the nearest Subway station, Crowley said, posing a hefty inconvenience for parents who might have to get to school for any reason.
City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) said the Education Department needed to reconsider the proposal and transport the displaced students to PS 313 in Sunnyside instead.
“It is the responsibility of the Department of Education to hear the concerns of the parents and children of P.S. 11 in Woodside,” Van Bramer said. “The Department of Education’s decision to relocate over 230 kindergarten students to PS 171 in Astoria will disrupt the lives of countless families.”
By Phil Corso