When seventh-grader Mohit Chandra began his year at MS 217 in Briarwood, there were so many students in his class that not everyone had a desk.
“It was pretty crazy,” Chandra, of Richmond Hill, said of his class that had 44 students. “It was hard to move around.”
The school has been able to reduce that number to 33, still slightly above the limit agreed upon by the teachers’ union and city, but students, teachers and administrators said they are worried the city’s plan to add about 200 students to the sixth grade at MS 217 next year would make classrooms like Chandra’s was the norm. Dozens of students, parents and teachers protested the planned increase outside the school on Friday morning.
The city Office of Student Enrollment is projecting that 200 students will have to enter MS 217’s sixth grade because the nearby PS 86 in Jamaica will no longer include sixth grade, leaving administrators and teachers at Briarwood wondering where they will house the influx in a school they said is already bursting at the seams.
“It will definitely create a major problem,” said Assistant Principal Barbara Kendall. “It would push class sizes up. We already have classes at 31, 32, 33 students.”
A DOE spokesman said the city would work to ensure class sizes at 217 would not go above the legal limit.
The school currently has about 1,400 students, and an additional 200 would push it above the capacity for which it was built — 1,379, which teachers said would create a significant hazard in the case of an emergency.
“When there’s a fire drill, it is a crush in the hallways, and that’s now, without the 200 more students,” said Karen Phillips, an English teacher. “I don’t want to think about what would happen if a child fell during one of those drills.”
Teachers said the population has increased at a much higher rate than surrounding schools and has jumped from 1,185 in the 2008-09 school year to about 1,400. The student to teacher ratio is 15.74-1 — higher than the surrounding schools. JHS 8 in Jamaica, for example, has a student to teacher ratio of 10.7-1.
School officials said they could lose three teaching positions to layoffs because of budget cuts next year. City officials stressed that number could change.
Those at Friday’s rally said they planned to continue to fight against the expected influx of students, and many of the students at the event held tongue-in-cheek signs that told passersby to call 311 and report overcrowding.
“We’re not going to lay down and take these children,” Phillips said. “Putting 200 more children in here is treating us like a factory.”
Mark Faraci, the school’s UFT representative and a social studies teacher, argued the city is targeting MS 217 for the increase for demographic reasons.
“They’re taking advantage of our minority parents because they won’t always know what’s going on, and they won’t complain,” Faraci said.
Students have created a petition against the increase, which they said hundreds of people have signed.
“We don’t want this because the school is already so overcrowded,” said Juliet Bachu, a seventh-grade student.
Parents and staff also wrote a letter on April 28 to a number of elected officials, including Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott and Borough President Helen Marshall.
Should the 200 students come into the building next year, teachers said 10 to 15 of the instructors would not have their own classrooms.
“Each day of the week, they will have to meet their classes in different rooms, displacing teachers who often welcome students for tutoring during lunchtime and preparation periods,” the letter states. “This is chaotic for teachers and children.”