The Education Department has reversed its decision and offered 58 local students seats at the Spuyten Duyvil School (P.S. 24), local politicians said, after parents threatened to hold a protest on March 13 to fight the plan to sent Riverdale’s children to a more distant school with a patchy safety record.
As parents were preparing for the rally, local politicians whose support they had enlisted told the activists on March 10 that 58 local students—children who live in the P.S. 24 zone but had been placed on a waitlist and assigned to P.S. 207 in Kingsbridge—would get seats at P.S. 24.
The Education Department did not confirm or deny the account on Monday. Letters informing parents that their children will be removed from the waiting list and assigned seats at P.S. 24 were to be sent out later this week, said Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, who supported the parents efforts.
In an email, the Education Department said 138 seats had been offered to zoned students by Monday, and 61 zoned students remained on the list. Dinowitz said 58 zoned students had been on the waiting list, all of whom have been assigned seats at P.S. 24. The difference in numbers could not immediately be reconciled.
Some of the students who were initially placed on the waitlist live within a short walking distance from P.S. 24, but would have to take a long bus ride to P.S. 207, their parents said. The reversal of the plan brought an outpouring of joy.
“I’m weeping with happiness. I can’t even tell you. We are overwhelmed and so grateful,” Lara Dua-Swartz, one of the parents who had been planning a protest, said after learning that waitlisted children would get seats at P.S. 24.
Dua-Swartz, who is a lifelong Riverdalian, said this was the first time she has ever heard that students who live near their zoned school were placed on a waiting list and were assigned a school further from their own home.
Another concern among parents was that P.S. 207 in Kingsbridge has been rated “persistently dangerous” by the Education Department—one among only four schools in New York City that received that designation for the 2016-17 school year. The number is down from 27 schools a year earlier.
But the situation at P.S. 207 has apparently improved, according to parents’ and administrators’ accounts, after a new principal took the helm late last year, replacing a head of school who had prompted much criticism from parents.
“There is a new principal at P.S. 207, and the school has taken steps including hiring additional staff, implementing trainings, increasing family engagement, hosting monthly safety meetings, and upgrading playground equipment,” a Education Department spokesperson said.
Nicole Caronia, another parent who grew up in Riverdale, said she was shocked to learn the Education Department put her child and other local children on a waiting list. But she said she was happy and grateful about the support the planned protest received even from families whose children avoided being placed on the waiting list.
“I think it’s wonderful that people who aren’t even as threatened by it are willing to go out and [protest],” she said. “I’m really grateful that people are willing to come together. Growing up in the neighborhood, I never saw anything like that. Now, that I’m a parent, it’s really great to be a part of. Sometimes, I guess, you have to deal with something ugly in order to get something better out of it.”
“I’m very happy because I think it shows that when people come together and really stand for what is right in our community, it shows that somebody is going to listen,” she said in a phone interview.
P.S. 24 is dealing with severe overcrowding problems. Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz has accused the school’s administration of enrolling children from outside the area and last year sent an aide to observe the enrollment process. The move, along with other issues, made him a target of a lawsuit by P.S. 24 assistant principal Manny Verdi, who is also suing Education Department officials.
The reversal of the DOE decision “is really huge,” Dinowitz said. “For the neighborhood in general, but specifically, for those 58 children and their families—they have every right to go to their school, where they live and where their parents were planning for them to go.”
The assemblyman said he, Councilman Andrew Cohen, District 10 Superintendent Maribel Hulla and P.S. 24 interim principal Steven Schwartz discussed the issue and “worked it out,” so that the school would admit the local students.
But the accomplishment does not solve the long-term problem of overcrowding at P.S. 24 and other schools in the area, Dinowitz added.
Cohen said in a statement he was “thankful that Superintendent Hulla and Principal Schwartz listened to the concerns of the affected families and the local elected officials and we were able to quickly resolve this matter.”
Parents had also called state Sen. Jeffrey Klein’s office for assistance.
“When the children were inexplicably denied entry into this exceptional public school, myself, Assemblyman Dinowitz, Councilman Cohen and the families of the wait-listed students immediately demanded an explanation,” Klein said in a statement. “Thankfully the issue was quickly resolved when several vacant classrooms were made available to the students.”
P.S. 24, which serves students from kindergarten through fifth grade, had 1,011 students enrolled during the 2015-2016 school year. On New York State exams, 57 percent of P.S. 24 students met standards for English and 62 percent met standards for math, according to DOE data. This compares to 26 percent for both English and math in the district, and 39 percent for English and 40 percent for math citywide.