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District 75 school in Brooklyn beats back city plan to break it apart
by Micah Landau | September 27, 2012 New York Teacher issue
The school community at P53, in Brooklyn’s East New York, may have bid farewell to their longtime school building last spring, but the school’s teachers, parents and students began this school year together, thanks to an impressive victory they won against the city’s Panel for Educational Policy last year.
The PEP, which has oversight over school building utilization, had intended to break up the District 75 school for students with severe disabilities, sending eight of its 11 classrooms to the nearby Spring Creek Campus and the remaining three to campuses in the more distant Park Slope and Manhattan Beach neighborhoods. But overwhelming opposition from parents and teachers forced the panel, which rarely reverses its decisions, to relent and move the school in its entirety to the Spring Creek Campus, keeping both the staff and student body intact.
“The city’s plan was outrageous,” said Sulma Alvarado, the school’s veteran social worker. “Most of the children live here in East New York. They don’t live in those other neighborhoods. They would have had to travel longer distances and for a lot of them, because they are physically disabled, it would have been overwhelming.”
UFT Chapter Leader Pierre Labissiere described the impact that the two-hour bus ride to and from the different school sites would have had on P53’s medically fragile students as “devastating.”
“They don’t know our students and didn’t understand the impact this change would have on them,” Labissiere said of the panel.
P53 parent Tameka Carter said the change in setting would have deeply upset her son.
“The kids at P53 have special needs. A lot of them can’t handle the change,” Carter said. “My son would have regressed. He would have stopped talking until he was comfortable. To change the routine wouldn’t have been fair. For our kids, there has to be routine because if there isn’t routine they will lose their way.”
UFT Parent and Community Liaison Betty Zohar, who likened the school to a “well-oiled machine,” assisted the parents and teachers in their campaign to keep the school together. Parents and teachers held rallies, worked with local elected officials, conducted outreach to the press and testified at public hearings at their school building and before the Panel for Educational Policy, Zohar said.
But it was the school community’s unity in the face of adversity that she believes won the day.
“The whole school community worked together. That’s why we won,” Zohar said. “I’ve never seen a unit work so well together. It just goes to show that when everybody works together, you can win.”