BY JACLYN JEFFREY-WILENSKY
Forest Hills parents are mobilizing after having learned that numerous kindergarten students who are zoned for PS 196 Grand Central Parkway School have been placed on a waiting list for the 2018-2019 school year.
A total of 63 children have been waitlisted at the school, according to figures from the city’s Department of Education (DOE). In response, parents of the waitlisted children have created a Change.org petition demanding that their zoned school and other nearby schools make room for the waitlisted children.
“We as parents [who] have moved here to be part of the Forest Hills community or have been a part of this community for many years find it unacceptable for our children to be denied entrance to their zoned school,” the parents wrote in the petition, which was signed by 38 self-identified parents of PS 196-zoned children. “The value of properties zoned for PS 196 is much higher than the surrounding areas, and parents are paying a premium to be zoned for and attend this well-regarded school, with an expectation to be timely admitted.”
The petition currently has 261 signatures.
“We didn’t spend a fortune on an apartment in this school zone just to be waitlisted!” Brianna Ohebsion, the mother of a kindergarten student, wrote after signing the petition.
Parents of waitlisted children face a stressful wait at best—and a stressful and inconvenient commute at worst, according to the petition.
“The DOE has placed a heavy burden on parents and young children to figure out how to get their children to schools outside their zones, traveling up to 45 minutes each way as well as possibly waiting months and months to find out if their children have been accepted into their zoned school,” the parents said.
The waiting—and lack of transparency by school officials—has made the process even more stressful, parents said. In Facebook posts, parents wrote that representatives of PS 196 had refused to tell them their positions on the waitlist.
“I was told they aren’t giving out numbers at all this year because it caused ‘tremendous stress’ last year,” one parent wrote.
PS 196 did not respond to a request for comment.
“We continue to work with families to address their concerns and ensure they find kindergarten seats that are best for their children,” said Department of Education deputy press secretary Doug Cohen in an email. “We added an additional kindergarten section last year to accommodate more families, and the school will make offers off the waitlist throughout the spring and summer.”
That additional class came after last year’s crop of waitlisted families petitioned the DOE to address the overcrowding issue, DNAinfo reported. PS 196 has a history of sky-high waitlist numbers. In 2017, 52 kids were waitlisted, making PS 196’s the second-longest wait in the city. And in 2015, frustrated Forest Hills parents crowded local community education council meetings, published petitions and formed an anti-overcrowding activist group after more than 100 children were waitlisted between PS 196 and nearby PS 144, DNAinfo reported.
This year’s petition proposed several solutions to the longstanding kindergarten overcrowding problem. Citing a line in the city school chancellor’s regulations stating that accommodation of zoned students takes priority over nonmandatory programs, the parents recommended that the Pre-K programs at PS 196 and nearby PS 303 be temporarily eliminated to make room for more kindergarten classes.
“Pre-K is considered a nonmandatory program,” the parents wrote. “At this time, PS 196 does not have the space to accommodate a Pre-K program in addition to all the zoned students for kindergarten.”
As alternatives, the parents suggested that PS 191 lease additional space or use cluster classrooms. They also suggested that PS 303 be changed from a specialized arts school into a locally zoned school.
Children across the city will begin receiving waitlist offers this month, according to the DOE. And in the meantime, parents of waitlisted students are planning to make their voices heard at upcoming meetings of the District 28 Community Education Council and the Panel for Educational Policy, which will be held on April 12 and April 23, respectively, at PS 174.