DOE says overcrowded schools should ‘best decide how to use their space’

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Coaxing a child into studying can be challenging as it is – let alone when they are asked to do so in a raucous hallway or leaky trailer.

Community Education Council District 30 (CEC30), a western Queens parent group, is pushing the city to ease the congestion in two local elementary schools – so crowded that children are forced to learn in unconventional and unsuitable locations – by building additions to the existing structures.

The organization presented its concerns regarding the overcrowding at P.S. 11, located at 54-25 Skillman Avenue in Woodside, and P.S. 2, located at 75-10 21st Avenue in Jackson Heights, on January 6 in its annual recommendations to the School Construction Authority (CSA).

“At P.S. 11, teachers have to take students out of the classroom for individual attention, but because there is no other classroom, they pull a chair out in the hallway,” said Isaac Carmignani, CEC30 co-president. “P.S. 2 has no auditorium, and the cafeteria is part hallway. They have temporary classroom units which are over 20 years old. So the roofs leak, causing the floors to rot. The situations are doing damage to our young people – damage that we can’t measure.”

P.S. 11 has received a violation from the Department of Buildings for obstructing the hallways, and Carmignani says they have also been cited by the FDNY.

The Department of Education (DOE) currently has no plans to expand the schools, which Carmignani believes is a shame, considering the land already belongs to the city.

According to DOE spokesperson Frank Thomas, the schools are a high priority, but the situations are not drastic enough to be detrimental to the students’ education.

“We know that space in this district is at a premium, which is why we have a number of projects in the works for District 30 in Queens that will create more high quality school seats for parents and communities in the upcoming years,” said Thomas. “In the meantime, we trust the school leadership to best decide how to use their space.”

Based on DOE statistics from the 2010-11 school year, P.S. 2 had a utilization rate of 105 percent, while P.S. 11 had a rate of 114 percent.

Anna Efkarpides, the principal of P.S. 11, believes teachers are adapting as best they can, but more space would greatly enhance their abilities as educators.

“Due to the overcrowding, teachers have to push into already overcrowded rooms or go to hallways, the cafeteria when no lunch is being served, locker rooms and even supply rooms and book rooms,” said Efkarpides. “As much as kids try to focus, if every 10 minutes you have children walking past you, you cannot learn. And the children in the hallway have the special needs. We have half-rooms and we keep getting more children and special education classes.”

Efkarpides says she is also perplexed as to why the DOE spent several million dollars to repair the school’s yard rather than expand the building.

Parents have echoed the faculty’s concerns, fearing their children are in danger – both physically and educationally.

“It is very upsetting to know that your child’s school is subpar in terms of basic things like a chair to sit on or a room to sit in,” said Elba Santiago, whose son and daughter both attend P.S. 11. “I don’t think there are words that can describe how upsetting the situation is. My son is asthmatic, and in one of the classrooms that he was in, the teacher’s foot went through the wood because it rotted. It’s sad to say that these children are being taken advantage of because of their position in life. I guess the message we are giving [our children] is that education is not a priority.”