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In Chelsea, parents battle a plan the city says doesn't exist

Chelsea families have been organizing for weeks to oppose a city plan to relocate their middle school. But city school officials say no such plan has ever existed.

In fact, they say they never even made a formal proposal to move the Clinton School for Writers and Artists, a small school currently sharing space with an elementary school on West 21st Street.

The apparently mistaken idea has its roots in the popular school’s desire to expand. Department of Education officials suggested moving Clinton to PS 33, a nearby, lower-performing elementary school that has classrooms to spare. But Clinton’s principal, Jeanne-Marie Fraino, convinced DOE officials that the move would not be good for her school, so they dropped the idea, DOE spokesman Will Havemann told me today.

“We have no intention of moving Clinton for Fall 2009,” Havemann said.

The news has not gotten to Clinton parents, who are sending frenzied e-mails in advance of a meeting tomorrow of the Community Education Council for District 2, the elected parent council that is supposed to advise the DOE on school siting decisions. “We should dress in red so we can make our presence felt,” read one e-mail sent to Clinton parents.

“Right now the whole school is focused on this issue,” said Shino Tanikawa, until recently co-president of Clinton’s parent-teacher association. Tanikawa resigned from the PTA to run for a vacant seat on the CEC.

When I called the school today, I wasn’t able to get a clear answer about what school officials have heard from the DOE. “We don’t know. That’s why we’re going to the meeting,” parent coordinator Cindy O’Neill told me.”We have no information.”

CEC members warn that the meeting, which will deal with other school siting issues in the district in addition to Clinton, is likely to be contentious. “Watch out for flying shoes,” one CEC member, Rebecca Daniels, wrote me in an e-mail about the meeting.

“Clinton parents think the fix is in,” another member, Michael Markowitz, told me.

Tanikawa said she and other Clinton parents are suspicious of the DOE because they have seen the department issue regulations, such as the cell phone ban, that lack public support. “It’s not above them to do things without public input,” she said. Tanikawa recently resigned from Clinton’s PTA so she could run for an open seat on the district’s CEC.

The DOE is legally obligated to consult with a district’s CEC when it plans to open, close, or move a school in the district. This year and in the past, district councils have complained that the DOE has only informed them about those kinds of changes after the decisions have been finalized.

About a possible Clinton move, Markowitz said, “CECD2 has received no official information.”

In this case, Havemann said, the DOE never presented a Clinton move to the CEC because the planning process never got to that stage.

DOE officials will be on hand at tomorrow’s CEC meeting to present plans for schools in the area other than Clinton. At least one plan, for a new middle school that will focus on digital technology, already has raised concerns from advocates who note that several of the district’s existing middle schools, including Clinton, would like to expand. They say those schools should be able to expand into new space that the DOE secures.

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