Nearly six inches of snow didn’t stop concerned parents from Sunset Park from taking a stand for their children’s education. On Friday, March 20, the parents held a peaceful but passionate protest regarding school overcrowding in the neighborhood. The march began outside of P.S .169 and made its way through the park.
“We have noticed that a new school is being built that will not benefit the children of Sunset Park who go to P.S. 169, P.S. 94 and P.S. 24,” said one of the march’s organizers and parent, Mimi Ferrer, referring to plans to build a school at 59th Street and Third Avenue. “Those are our local schools, our neighbors and from what we’re finding out, every school is overcrowded.”
She also added that the School Construction Authority’s plan to add students to the recently opened P.S. 516, located at 43rd Street and Fourth Avenue, wouldn’t be enough to fix the problem. “(P.S. 516) is only going to accommodate an additional 113 seats, which is not sufficient for the future kids going to P.S. 169.”
According to the parents, the kids’ education is suffering because of the overcrowding issue. “It’s not fair that teachers who are trying to do what they can for my child don’t have the tools for the students,” Ferrer added. “It makes it hard for me as a parent, as well as the teacher and the student.”
Another main concern voiced were that kids were forced to make long commutes to schools because ones closer to them have no room. “It takes some of them an hour to commute on the bus,” she said.
Mother Maria Velasco put her child on the waiting list for years before she was able to enlist him in his nearby school, P.S. 971. “When he was in kindergarten, I was trying to get him into that school and they told me no because there were too many kids in that school so I had to wait.” Instead, her son attended a school further from home before being finally being approved years later.
Councilmember Carlos Menchaca released a statement shortly before the rally, expressing his concern. “Finding school sites in Sunset Park is incredibly challenging,” he agreed. “There are number of reasons for this–from the population growth in our neighborhoods to the mix of land uses in Sunset Park, with heavily industrial areas that are not appropriate for new school development. My office has been working in close partnership with the community board, community education councils, city agencies and local leaders to identify possible locations for new schools and UPK programs. “
However, the parents want more than just words. “I was expecting we would get a little more support from elected officials,” added Ferrer. “It’s sad no one’s out here to guide us in the right direction. We’re tired of planning. We want to see action.”
“The gathering of so many community members to support this cause, despite the cold weather, speaks of the severity of our overcrowding situation in Sunset Park,” said another event organizer Carmen Salvador. “Our children’s’ academic performance is suffering. Parents are tired of excuses. It is a basic right to secure education at a nearby school.”