Parents of Relocated Students Decry Metal Detectors, Windowless Classrooms

IMG_5813Dana Varinsky Tom Mullen speaks to parents.

Just a day after their children were relocated to a new school following the evacuation of their building, parents of East Side Community High School students are lamenting the new arrangement and demanding a speedy resolution from the Department of Education.

Officials now estimate that students and teachers of East Side and Girls Prep, which were co-located at 420 East 12th Street until it was evacuated Monday due to structural damage, won’t be able to move back into the building for another three to four weeks. During that time, East Side students will be sharing a building with Norman Thomas High School – one of 14 high schools that the city proposed closing last year due to poor performance.

At a meeting last night, about 40 parents of East Side high schoolers expressed concerns about security issues and negative interactions between their children and their new schoolmates. They also complained that the building felt oppressive, with its metal detectors and lack of windows.

“They felt like they were in prison all day – that’s the first thing my kid told me,” said one parent, Judy Castillo.

IMG_5834Dana Varinsky Albert Vasquez (in hat) speaks to Tom Mullen.

East Side’s administration is working to minimize the contact its students have with Norman Thomas students: drop-off and pick-up times will be staggered, and East Side students will eat lunch in their classrooms rather than going to the cafeteria.

Mark Federman, the principal at East Side, acknowledged that the switch from one school environment to another was a challenge. “We’re a small school. We’ve built up a strong academic program and a safe community for years and we’ve had our own building,” he told The Local, adding that his concern wasn’t with Norman Thomas, specifically. “Any ten story building with four other high schools and metal detectors is a huge difference for our students and our families,” he said.

Students also cannot bring cell phones to school at Norman Thomas or go off campus for lunch, two privileges they enjoyed at East Side.

Albert Vasquez, whose son is in 11th grade, said the relocation was a huge inconvenience. “The cell phone issue is a big thing because my son texts me when he gets into school and every afternoon when he leaves, so I’m nervous on top of worrying if anything happened at school,” he said. Mr. Vasquez, who grew up on the Lower East Side, said he learned to be street smart in addition to school smart, but that his children do not have the same skills. “My kids are only school smart, so they can be vulnerable,” he said.

IMG_5763Nicole Guzzardi Repair of the wall.

“I’m more worried about their psyche,” said parent Susan Avalos, citing dark classrooms and security scans. She later added, “But I know Mark [Federman] would do the best possible thing for these kids, so I know they’re doing everything they can.”

At the end of last night’s meeting, Tom Mullen, assistant principal at East Side, gave parents a tour of the Norman Thomas classrooms, which are able to hold East Side’s classes without any reorganization. “Considering all the things that could have happened I think we’re doing pretty good,” Mr. Mullen said. “Do I wish there were windows? Yes.”

East Side parents also made an appearance at last night’s Community Board 3 meeting to express their concerns. This morning, at a meeting at the Boys Club on 10th Street, parents encouraged each other to make use of a new Website, No Way to Learn. “Our school is literally crumbling and the New York City Department of Education’s solution is to shove our children anywhere they can and expect they’ll get the education they need,” complains the Website. “This is not a solution we can accept. This is no way for our children to learn.”

IMG_5831Dana Varinsky Parents toured Norman Thomas.

Organizers at this morning’s meeting solicited parent volunteers to help with urgent school needs, and announced the creation of separate committees dealing with construction, media, and other issues.

“We are raising our kids to rise above the challenges, and they will,” said Elizabeth Ruiz, a Parent’s Association member who attended both meetings.

Though East Side’s middle school students were originally slated for relocation to Norman Thomas along with the high schoolers, they were instead sent to PS 19 today, just a few blocks away from their original location. They’ll eventually be relocated to P.S. 1 Alfred E. Smith. “The location for us was fine,” said Kelly J. Smith, whose son started middle school at East Side this month. “But anywhere you’re going, you know you’re taking an auditorium or cafeteria, which isn’t exactly conducive to learning.”

At last night’s meeting, Assistant Principal Tom Mullen credited parent activism for the change of plans. “A day ago they were telling us the middle school was going to be here,” he said, referring to Norman Thomas. “Now with parents organizing we’re hearing otherwise. So do you have power? I think that answers the question.”

Meanwhile, students of Girls Prep have been relocated to M.S. 158 on the Upper East Side. Avodele Carnegie, whose daughter Brianna attends the seventh grade at Girls Prep, struggled with the new commute this morning. Ms. Carnegie and her daughter lives in Queens. “Today was our first day and it hasn’t been good. This morning, she was late because it’s a different commute,” she said.

Additional reporting by Sasha Von Oldershausen.