With the start of the school year just days away, Community Education Council 24 met at PS 102 in Elmhurst on Tuesday, once again, to discuss the impact of homeless shelter construction on district schools.
The only problem was, much like at the Aug. 6 CEC 24 meeting, there were no representatives from the Department of Homeless Services to discuss the issue, disappointing the council and the approximately 50 people in attendance.
“They asked us what questions were going to be asked. ‘Why do you want us at this meeting? What about the last meeting?’’’ CEC 24 President Nick Comaianni said in his opening remarks. “My answer was ‘You didn’t show up at the last meeting so how could you answer questions?’ At that point, they stopped returning our emails.”
Instead of challenging DHS on the issue of burdening the most overcrowded school district in the city with potentially hundreds of additional students living at the Boulevard Family Residence, formerly the Pan American Hotel, at 79-00 Queens Blvd., Department of Education representatives debated with the council and the crowd of around 50 people over priority enrollment and a lack of interagency discussion.
When asked by CEC 24 Vice President Peter Vercessi and Comaianni if the DOE and DHS confer with each other about the student population in area schools before deciding on sites for homeless shelters, Senior Executive Director of Guidance and School Counseling Lois Herrera said there historically hasn’t been much dialogue between the two agencies.
“I imagine that they look at data,” Herrera said, “but this isn’t something they ask us about.”
A frustrated Comaianni argued with Herrera and Students in Temporary Housing Senior Program Manager Montgomery Smith over the logistical issues of busing dozens, if not hundreds of children to their school of origin, an option available to each student living in homeless shelters citywide, with Herrera eventually promising to bring the feedback of the board and the audience directly to Chancellor Carmen Fari–a.
The audience continued the debate, with multiple people demanding to know whether a homeless student or a student established in the area would get priority if, hypothetically, one seat were left in an area school.
“If the family decides, which is their legal right, to attend a school near where the shelter is located, then they follow the same patterns as zoned children follow,” Herrera said. “It isn’t a matter of ‘we lived here first’ or ‘we just got here last week.’”
Glendale Civic Association President Kathy Masi followed with the announcement of a petition she has begun that calls on the DOE to study constructing a sprawling pre-K-12 educational complex at the site of the shelter proposed for an old factory in Glendale.
“The children will benefit from going to school with children from different economic, social and racial backgrounds,” Masi said. “We think this is a really great alternative to that site.”
CEC 24, at the end of the meeting, passed a resolution supporting the creation of a “school setting” at the site.