Three Queens school parents joined concerned residents from the four other boroughs, advocacy group Class Size Matters, the Alliance for Quality Education and Public Advocate Letitia James in a petition filed with the state Education Department alleging the city Department of Education has not taken measures mandated by law to reduce overcrowding in schools.
“The mayor, when he was running the first time, promised to do something about the overcrowding,” said Deborah Alexander, co-president of Community Education Council 30 in western Queens and one of the plaintiffs. “We haven’t seen it. In fact, we’ve seen the opposite.”
The petition, sent to state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia last Thursday, alleges the city was required by the 2007 Contract for Excellence Law — approved by the state Legislature after the Court of Appeals ruled “overcrowded classes in District schools contributed to inadequate student performance,” in its ruling on the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit — to ensure K-3 classrooms had no more than 20 students, grades 4-8 no more than 23 and high school core classes no more than 25 by the end of the 2011-12 school year. Since 2007, according to the petition, the average city class size in all grade levels have increased — in the 2007-08 school year, for example, the average class size in grades K-3 was 20.9 students and in 2014-15 was 24.6 pupils.
For high schools, it was 26.1 and jumped to 26.6 in 2014-15.
According to DOE statistics, the average grade level across the board saw a 0.2 decrease from 2015-16 to 2016-17.
The petitioners are requesting Elia order the DOE to begin reducing class sizes as outlined the 2007 plan within five years.
Jonathan Burman, a spokesman for the SED, only said the agency has received the petition.
Will Mantel, a spokesman for the city DOE, defended the city’s work in reducing class sizes.
“Class sizes decreased this school year and we’ve made particular progress in reducing class size in grades K-3,” Mantel said in an emailed statement. “We’ve invested in efforts to reduce class sizes, including dedicating $4.5 billion to create more than 44,000 seats in overcrowded areas across the city. We are reviewing the petition.”
Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters and a leading advocate of the issue, said any claim that the city is trying to reduce class size is “bulls--t.”
“It’s bulls--t, for them to say they intend to reduce class sizes because they don’t,” Haimson added. “The point is that class sizes may be very slightly decreasing, but at a rate where it would take over 20 years to get to the levels in the original city class size reduction plan.”
According to a presentation on the group’s website, Queens had the second-largest average class size behind Staten Island. In the World’s Borough, the average K-3 class was 25.2 students, 27.7 for 4-8 and 28.1 for high school.
Alexander, whose district is one of the most overcrowded, has seen students in her childrens’ school be forced to put their coats and backpacks on the back of their chairs — because the cubby holes were used to store supplies.
“The rooms are just so small,” she said.
The other two Queens parents involved in the petition, Joann Schneider, whose son goes to PS 113 in Glendale, and Litza Stark, whose son is in a special needs class at PS 85 in Astoria, could not be reached for comment but issued statements on Class Size Matters’ website detailing how overcrowding has affected their childrens’ education.
Haimson and Alexander said de Blasio made campaign promises to reduce class sizes and are disappointed that he has not followed through on them.
“We’ve been waiting years for the city to comply with what we think is the law and their ethical obligation to reduce class sizes,” the advocate said. “And at this point I think it’s about time that they did that.”
The petitioners are represented by the Education Law Center.