For the parents of PS 235 in the Bronx, the opening of school this year has meant the breakup of their school and the disintegration of what they call their “extended family.”
The parents on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against school District 9 to get their school and family back.
As part of a district plan to relieve overcrowding, most of the youngsters in PS 235, which for the past 11 years had shared a building with PS 11 in the heart of the Highbridge neighborhood, have been moved to JHS 148, which is more than a mile away on the other side of District 9.
While about 150 children in kindergarten through grade two will stay at PS 11, some 300 children in grades three through seven have to board a bus every morning to ride across this South Bronx district of 33 schools and 30,000 students.
Parents say the breakup of PS 235, the district’s only bilingual school, deprives Highbridge, a predominantly Hispanic area, of an important neighborhood center. They say that PS 235, known as the Rafael Hernandez school, has been a safe haven where Hispanic children and parents have always felt welcomed and comforted by a staff that shares their background, where parents can take classes to learn English and earn general equivalency diplomas.
But the parents complaint the 20-year-old school has received poor treatment from district officials, noting that PS 235 has always had to share buildings with other schools and has been moved three times.
They call moving pupils from PS 235 to JHS 148, which is in the predominantly black section of Morrisania, a sign that district officials treat the bilingual program as a second-class citizen.
“That school is predominantly African-American – they won’t be using the bilingual services. We need it here,” said Migali Ocasio, a member of the PS 235 Parent Association executive committee and the parent of a sixth-grader and second-grader.
The parents, who accuse District 9 officials of violating their rights by not consulting them before the move, filed a lawsuit Wednesday in Brooklyn Supreme Court, naming the Board of Education, Fernandez, the District 9 school board and District 9 Superintendent Felton Johnson as defendants.
Brooklyn State Supreme Court Justice Theodore Jones yesterday granted them a temporary restraining order preventing District 9 from moving any more youngsters from PS 235.
The parents also got an unexpected boost from Schools Chancellor Joseph Fernandez yesterday when he issued an unusual directive to School Board 9 President Carmelo Saez, ordering him to appoint a district liaison to help parents find a permanent site in which to house the school.
The directive says any recommendations the parents have about a permanent site will be investigated by the central Board of Education, not officials from District 9.
“This is the third time we’re being moved. The fact that we are being moved out of this community means they don’t care about this community,” said Ocasio.
“It’s difficult being homeless,” said PS 235 Principal Felix Gonzalez.
District officials say parents were given ample notice about the planned transfers last spring, when public hearings were held on District 9’s three-year rezoning plan, which proposed moving some students from the district’s overcrowded west side to the east side.
But parents say the plan presented at the hearings did not include moving kids from PS 235 to JHS 148. They say they only heard about the move through a letter sent to them in May.
But Superintendent Johnson, the award-winning educator hand-picked by Schools Chancellor Joseph Fernandez last spring to reverse District 9’s history of failure and corruption, said the parents were given an opportunity to comment on the plan at the public hearings.
“When parents say they weren’t informed, that’s not true,” said Johnson, the former principal of IS 229 in District 9. “Some of the those meetings were even held at [PS] 11. Unfortunately, not every parent always comes out to these public hearings.”
Johnson said PS 235 had outgrown the site at PS 11 and the district needed to find more space for the school. He said JHS 148 was the only school that could accommodate the bilingual school. Johnson said he agrees that PS 235 should have its own building – but right now there is just no more space.
“We did what we thought was educationally viable for all children concerned,” he said. “The school is functioning well. The emotional part is they just don’t want to move from their own neighborhood.”