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Students are being zoned for P.S. 64, a school the city is closing

A quirk in the city’s complicated school system means that some families are being told that their children must attend a school that the city deemed so low-performing that it should not be allowed to enroll any new students.

In the South Bronx, the Department of Education this year decided to close P.S. 64, a long-struggling elementary school — with some parents’ support. In September, the youngest children at P.S. 64 will begin attending two new schools that are opening in the building, in keeping with the city’s preferred model for phasing out low-performing schools, while older students will stay on until the last ones move on to middle school.

But even though no new kindergarteners will enroll at P.S. 64, some students have been zoned for the school. About two dozen families at P.S. 170, a nearby school that serves children in kindergarten through second grade, have been told that their children are zoned for third grade at P.S. 64.

Unlike P.S. 64, which has received D’s on its two most recent city progress reports, including an F for student performance, P.S. 170 received a B on its most recent progress report.

Parents at P.S. 64 are so concerned about the fact that the school will still serving students until 2016 that they are rallying at the Department of Education’s headquarters today to ask for improvements. According to Emma Hulse, an organizer with the New Settlement Parent Action Committee, which has worked with P.S. 64 parents for years, P.S. 170 families that are zoned for P.S. 64 will also attend the rally, which is aimed at drawing attention to the larger issue of how the next mayor will improve struggling schools.

P.S. 170’s parent coordinator, Maritza Zapata, said the school recently held a meeting for families of the 24 second-graders, out of 88 total, who are zoned for P.S. 64. To avoid the low-performing school, families must petition the city for a different assignment using a “Placement Exemption Request.”

Department officials said they had previously discussed the fact that P.S. 64 is taking in new third-graders with community members. But Marilyn Espada, president of the District 9 Community Education Council, said she had not been informed about the zoning.

“It’s not a good idea because those kids are doing good where they’re at now,” she said. “Why bring them to a school that’s being phased out?”

That’s the same question that many P.S. 170 parents are asking as well.

Cristina Contreras, whose son attends P.S. 170, graduated from P.S. 64’s sixth grade years ago. She said she is under the impression that the school is completely different now, with lots of fighting and little homework or student learning.

“I’ve heard of kids who were A students at P.S. 170 and they’re failing at that school once they get there. … I wouldn’t want any kid to have to end up in a school where it’s already known they’re going to fail,” she said. “It’s mind-boggling that children are being zoned to that school.”

Like any families that don’t like their zoned school, parents of P.S. 170 students who are zoned for P.S. 64 can apply for permission to go elsewhere. But the department is under no obligation to fulfill their requests, which must be filed by July 19 at the borough enrollment office.

And even if they do receive another choice, busing isn’t available for children who attend schools other than the ones they are zoned for — an issue that has prevented other families from taking advantage of the option to leave low-performing schools for stronger ones.

“Over the last 10 years have worked to fix a broken system that forces children into failing schools,” said a department spokesman, Devon Puglia. “We do everything we can to ensure students have access to high-performing schools throughout their neighborhood.”

Kisory Valdez applied for a transfer for her son, who attends P.S. 170 and is zoned for P.S. 64 next fall. She went to the borough enrollment office and asked if her son could attend P.S. 204, a successful school that other students at P.S. 170 are zoned for. The office told her that her son couldn’t go there, but he could transfer to P.S. 70, which Valdez said is equally as bad as P.S. 64. The school also posts very low test scores and does not move students forward quickly, according to city and state data.

As Valdez explained what she’s heard from P.S. 170’s principal, other parents, the city, and New Settlement, it’s clear how confusing the process has been for her.

“I’m totally exasperated,” she said. “I feel very hopeless and frustrated.”