Thursday, March 25, 2010

Principal at School for Deaf Students Opposes Plan to Move Another School into Gramercy Buildin

Principal at School for Deaf Students Opposes Plan to Move Another School into Gramercy Building

Officials at Manhattan's only school devoted to deaf and hearing-impaired students oppose a city plan to bring more children into their building in order to alleviate school overcrowding across the borough.

Watfa Shama, principal of the American Sign Language and English Secondary School, said the Department of Education’s proposal to move Chelsea’s Clinton School for Artists and Writers into its already cramped building could compromise the children's education. She also said the city was breaking a promise made to her for more classroom space for the school’s special-needs students.

“We’re teaching children who deserve equal access to a great education,” Shama told DNAinfo. “I don’t think this move was as strategic as it could have been.”

Under the DOE’s latest plan to ease overcrowding at a Chelsea elementary school building, the Clinton School would move to the East 24th Street building that currently houses Quest to Learn, P.S. 138, P.S. 347 and J.H.S. 47 — all parts of the American Sign Language and English Secondary School.

The plan has drawn fire from members of the Clinton School community, who say the temporary move to the American Sign Language school building is a step down for the school. The middle school is currently housed at P.S. 11 on W. 21st Street, where there is a brand-new science lab and a private swimming pool for students.

Shama said introducing the 261-student Clinton School to the building could increase class sizes for deaf children.

“For children who are deaf or hard of hearing, small class sizes are crucial to learning sign language,” she said.

Shama took over the school in 2008, when it had failing reports and was on the state's list of "persistently dangerous schools," according to the No Child Left Behind program. She said the DOE had promised her on several occasions that if she turned the school around and increased enrollment, she could have more space this year to expand her school. To free up space, Quest to Learn was slated to depart to the Bayard Rustin Educational Complex in Chelsea.

Shama explained she had already begun recruiting new students across the boroughs when the DOE's plan was released on March 5. The DOE acknowledges there were discussions to increase the capacity of the school, but that was trumped by the need to alleviate student overcrowding in Manhattan.

“We recognize that the ASL Secondary School expected to expand its enrollment, and this change in plans is difficult for any school leader,” said DOE spokesman Jack Zarin-Rosenfield. “But ultimately we had to decide on temporarily accommodating an existing school over the potential expansion of another school.”

Zarin-Rosenfeld said DOE staff will talk with Shama to discuss future plans, as the Clinton School move is only temporary.

However, the latest proposal is still not set in stone. It hinges on the planned departure of Quest to Learn, which would free up space for the Clinton School, and will be put to a vote by the Panel of Education Policy on April 20.