Frustrated and resentful, a group of sign-carrying parents protested outside PS 196 in Forest Hills the evening before it was shut down by order of Gov. Cuomo.
Following a jump in cases of COVID-19, parents of students in Kew Gardens and Rego Park as well as Forest Hills found themselves back at square one just two weeks after city schools reopened.
Parents at the rally said the school informed them only last Wednesday that the school on 113th Street next to its namesake Grand Central Parkway would close on Thursday after Cuomo rejected the idea of using ZIP codes to determine so-called red zones. State officials drew new maps — using unspecified criteria — under which schools in several sections of Brooklyn and Queens were put in red or orange zones and shuttered, and nonessential business and houses of worship severely restricted. The maps also feature less-restrictive yellow warning zones.
“The goal posts are moving constantly,” said Corey Kanterman, one of the parents who organized the “Kids Belong in Class” rally last Wednesday. “First our ZIP code is OK,” he said. “Then, hours later, it’s a cluster.”
The Forest Hills ZIP code of 11375 was not among the nine with positive test rates above 3 percent that Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio had been warning would face new restrictions. But under the cluster maps the state based its closures on, much of the community, especially north of Queens Boulevard, is in the red zone that means school closures, including at PS 196.
The suddenness of schools being outside the zone one day and included the next has caused confusion and upset among parents.
The parents seemed most upset, after months of preparation for a cautious return to class, that their schools had been lumped in with those in the surrounding areas where the virus is showing signs of resurgence.
“Forty or 50 people can shop at the Gap a mile away with just a mask but 10 to 15 kids can’t enter a classroom under protocols that we prepared for months?” said Kanterman. “It makes no sense.
“We believe children should be back in the classroom.”
Two cases of COVID-19 have been traced to PS 196 since it reopened two weeks ago, parents said: a grade-school student who gave it to a sibling who did not attend the school.
“They told us they would close a school if the transmission rate was up over 3 percent in that school, not in a whole ZIP code,” said one parent.
“The class and the student have been working in isolation for two weeks,” said Kanterman. “The system is working.”
The school had been operating with students going to class in person some days and using remote learning from home on others. In-person learning has been suspended for at least two weeks until more virus testing can be done, officials said,
Some of the 30 parents who attended the rally said their biggest fear is that the return of remote learning only will be stretched out for the rest of the year, forcing their kids to fall further behind.
“Gov. Cuomo, you think you have the power to dictate to us,” said Jeffrey Herskovitz, the father of another PS 196 student. “You do not. You picked the wrong neighborhood to try that.”
“Open up!” the parents chanted at that point.