Full ‘Nest’! City withdraws plan to squeeze PS 32 autism program after outrage

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

City officials have withdrawn a plan to squeeze a charter school into a Carroll Gardens public school after parents complained that the move would severely undermine a well-respected and widely emulated program for autistic students.

The pullback came one day after our online report revealed that Brooklyn Prospect Charter School would move from Sunset Park into PS 32 on Hoyt and Union streets — and, in doing so, eliminate space dedicated to the school’s 40 autistic students.

“Utter relief,” Larissa Bailiff, whose autistic son Evan is a first-grader at the school, said on Wednesday after the Department of Education announced a reversal of fortune for the students.

“It’s been a roller-coaster ride and I feel so grateful and it has brought our PS 32 community together. It showed us our priorties and made us appricate the programs we all share. It’s not just about special education — we all know now how important our school is to us and to all our children.”

Local elected officials were also overjoyed.

“Parents, students and my office made it clear that placing a charter school at this location would severely damage existing educational programs,” said Borough President Markowitz said. “The Department of Education got our message loud and clear and I am pleased that they responded.”

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 would have all but vanishish once the charter school moved in, Bailiff said.

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

City stats do show that the school building is underutilized, which likely encouraged officials to consider 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 MS — which also shares space in the building — filling out the remaining 34 rooms.

City officials had insisted that the charter school’s relocation would only be temporary until it could make a permanent move to space at Douglass Street and Third Avenue in Gowanus “no later than Aug. 1, 2012,” the city stated in a description.

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

Before the reversal, the teacher’s union painted the plan as part of purposeful strategy to destroy neighborhood schools, and believed that the school would not be gone in just a year.

“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.

Late on Wednesday, state Sen. Daniel Squadron (D–Carroll Gardens) joined Markowitz in hailing the decision to find another space for the charter school.

“There is no doubt, the community was heard,” he said.