Parents at a Vinegar Hill elementary school say the city has “bamboozled” them with its decision to cram the first Arabic-language academy into their building without extensive discussion.
“Everyone was stunned by the decision,” said Edgardo Rivera, the head of the Parent-Teacher Association at PS 287, on Navy Street near Flushing Avenue.
The city informed the school leadership on Feb. 4 of its proposal to place the controversial Khalil Gibran International Academy, a middle school that will ultimately encompass grades 6-12, into the struggling elementary school. A PTA forum with city officials was held a few weeks later, and then, on March 24, the city revealed its decision to go ahead with the plan.
“The city originally told stakeholders that it was just thinking about placing Khalil Gibran there, and then they come back and say it’s a done deal,” complained Councilwoman Letitia James (D–Fort Greene).
The feeling of deja vu here is understandable.
The Gibran Academy has been plagued by controversy since the Department of Education announced its creation last year. At first, cultural conservatives claimed the school would foster anti-American sentiment. But later, first at Park Slope’s PS 282 elementary school and then at a middle- and high-school complex in Boerum Hill, parents complained that city officials were trying to cram the academy into existing school buildings with little discussion.
The city was ultimately successful in squeezing the academy into the Dean Street building after assuaging angry parents with long-promised capital improvements.
But now, parents at Vinegar Hill’s PS 287 — which has space for the Gibran Academy because the Urban Assembly School of Law and Justice is moving to a renovated courthouse on Adams Street, say the city missed a big opportunity to keep elementary school kids from being exposed to wilder older kids.
“All along, we’ve had little kids exposed to high school students smoking in the bathrooms and making out,” said Rivera, referring to the Urban Assembly high school students. “But we were tolerant, because we were told it was only a temporary situation. … If a school must come now, let it be another elementary school or middle school.”
James added that city officials failed to “inform all stakeholders” of the Gibran decision, but Melody Meyer, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, claimed, “The parent leaders have been a part of the process from the beginning.”