Parents of Relocated Students Demand Answers, Search For Solutions

schoolDaniel Maurer The wall of P.S. 60 this morning.

Parents at East Side Community High School are demanding to know when their children will be allowed back into the P.S. 60 building, evacuated over two weeks ago. Last night, they called on the Department of Education to start searching for alternatives to an interim school building that they likened to a prison.

At a parent association meeting at Theater for the New City, Michael Mirisola of the city’s School Construction Authority drew scoffs as he explained that the agency wouldn’t know when students could return to the building at 420 East 12th Street until engineers submitted a report – likely by the end of the week – based on their daily probes of the building. “By this time next week we should have a better idea of where we’re at,” he said. “I won’t know if we’re going to have a plan yet.”

That wasn’t good enough for some of the 150 or so parents who attended, several of whom complained that their children were no longer motivated to go to school now that they were sharing a Midtown South building with students of Norman Thomas High School. (Councilwoman Rosie Mendez also attended the meeting.)

“Whoever is going to Norman Thomas is being bullied. The only one that can actually do something about it is me – I’m a gangster,” said the parent of a 12th grader, to laughter and applause. He complained that he didn’t know where his daughter’s upcoming college fair would be located.

Another parent, of a ninth grader, said she was only at Norman Thomas for an hour when she began “suffocating” from a lack of air and light. “These kids are in prison from 8:30 a.m. to whenever they leave the building,” she said to applause. “I don’t even know how those kids survive on a normal daily basis. No matter what kind of kids you put in there they will end up bad.” Like others at the meeting, she stressed that the Department of Education should begin looking for alternative locations in case repair of a faulty wall at 420 East 12th Street took longer than expected.

school 2Daniel Maurer

Carolyn Martinez, president of the parent association, said that although her child wasn’t sharing a building with Norman Thomas (middle schoolers were relocated to P.S. 1 Alfred E. Smith), the disruption caused the eighth grader “constant anxiety.” “When I heard the high school kids were going to Norman Thomas my first e-mail to Mark was, ‘No way,’” said Ms. Martinez, referring to principal Mark Federman and using an expletive for emphasis despite the presence of students in the audience. She cited the school’s failing progress reports and “all kinds of things that go on there.”

Teachers also expressed frustration. Ben Wilder, a high school staffer, said, “Yes, we are stressed – it is not fun. As a teacher, this is not my ideal, either,” but went on to praise the resilience of the students. Like others, he emphasized the importance of regaining access to the evacuated school building so that educational materials could be reclaimed. “You cannot have a reading literacy program that’s a model for other schools in the city if your reading library is stuck over at 420 East 12th Street,” he said to applause.

Giselle Geroge-Gilkes, a middle school teacher, also praised the students’ perseverance, but said she felt disrespected by the Department of Education. “It was a waste of your time for you to come here and tell me, ‘I don’t know’ again,” she told representatives at the meeting.

Ms. Geroge-Gilkes may have been joking when she told parents she would accept massages, but others called in earnest for parent volunteers to perform tasks such as moving items, should administrators gain temporary access to the building; providing afternoon snacks for students who must now eat lunch as early as 10:50 a.m.; and soliciting local vendors and organizations for space, supplies, and services.

Mark Federman, the principal at East Side, called on parents to act as hall monitors. “It’s not that at any moment we feel fearful – it’s just that it’s just such a big building and there are escalators and there are all these back stairwells. It just doesn’t feel good in there,” he said.

Still, Mr. Federman remained hopeful, and dismissed a suggestion that he involve the media. “I’ve been told from day one that the wall needs to come halfway down at least before we have any answers, which is why I’ve just been like, ‘Alright I’m just going to focus on getting us settled in our school before I start going crazy,’” he said. “But I believe that by next week we’re going to get an answer and if we don’t get an answer or we get an answer we don’t like, then we can mobilize.”