City plans to takes space from autism program at PS 32 for charter school

City plans to takes space from autism program at PS 32 for charter school
Photo by Bess Adler

A city plan to squeeze a charter school into a Carroll Gardens public school will severely undermine a well-respected and widely emulated program for autistic students, opponents say.

Brooklyn Prospect Charter School is readying a move from Sunset Park into PS 32 on Hoyt and Union streets, a proposal that critics say will eliminate space dedicated to the school’s 40 autistic students.

“Our school is going to be radically altered,” said Larissa Bailiff, whose autistic son Evan is a first-grader at the school.

As part of the so-called Nest program, autistic kids at PS 32 are integrated into regular, classroom settings with a maximum of 16 students.

They’re also provided with special socialization and behavioral exercises in separate rooms, which will all but vanish once the charter school comes to roost, Bailiff said.

“There won’t be room for them to be pulled out of class and work in small groups,” Bailiff said.

And that could be hard on kids with autism — a spectrum of developmental disorders affecting social and communication skills — who can be unusually distressed by changes to routine.

But city stats list the school building as underutilized, allowing the charter school’s 300, sixth-through-eighth-grade students to occupy 12 classrooms, with the other 500 kids from PS 32, and the New Horizons Middle School — which also shares space in the building — filling out the remaining 34 rooms.

City officials insisted that the charter school’s relocation is only temporary until it can make a permanent move to space at Douglass Street and Third Avenue in Gowanus.

“Brooklyn Prospect would move out no later than Aug. 1, 2012,” the city stated in a description.

School officials were galled.

“I don’t see this plan as one that puts children first,” said Adam Marcus, the PS 32 librarian. “They are taking a program that we have successfully run that requires smaller class size, and turning that around.”

In 2003, PS 32 was the first school to host the Nest program, which has since expanded to more than 20 schools citywide.

The Department of Education already seems ready to bend. Agency spokesman Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld said officials do not believe the move would “adversely” affect the school’s autistic population, but added, “We are currently reassessing our options for the charter school.”

The teacher’s union painted the plan as part of purposeful strategy to destroy neighborhood schools, and said it did not believe that the school would be gone in just a year, as the city claimed in the plan.

“They take more and more of your space,” said Rebecca Alford, a chapter leader at the teacher’s union.

“Take a look at PS 15,” she said, referring to the Red Hook school where a charter school was given three more years in the building before it has to find a new home.

And parents said they’re already considering options for next year.

“There won’t be any reason to keep my son in the program because all the great services he’s been getting won’t be up to par anymore — because they won’t have any space in which to do them,” said a Windsor Terrace mom who wished to remain anonymous.

“Sticking them in cubby holes isn’t the same kind of service.”

The Panel for Educational Policy will vote on the matter at the International High School [883 Classon Ave, between President and Union streets in Prospect Heights, (718) 622-6496], April 28 at 6 pm.