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Know Your Rights
Source: Queens Chronicle
Subject: Education Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Immigrants Feeling Squeezed in Schools

¿Dónde está mi silla? Where is my seat?

That was the question immigration advocacy group Make the Road New York asked the Department of Education after it released a report that stated overcrowding in schools disproportionately affects School Districts 24 and 30 — two areas with heavy immigrant populations.

“Our city’s current school facilities do not set up our students or teachers to thrive, particularly in immigrant communities. This is a problem that’s decades in the making, with insufficient attention given to it by prior administrations,” Daniel Altschuler, Make the Road’s research coordinator, said at a press conference announcing the study.

According to the report, called “Where’s My Seat?” 100,000 additional school seats are needed to address the city’s overcrowding issues across the five boroughs. The DOE and School Construction Authority’s capital plan seeks to drastically decrease that number, but the study claims that the plan doesn’t include 5,366 seats in immigrant-heavy School Districts 24 and 30 — encompassing Jackson Heights, Corona, Elmhurst and Long Island City.

Immigrant parents, speaking in Spanish and whose stories were later translated into English, told how their children are forced to learn in classrooms with more than 30 children in them.

Three high-ranking City Council members, representing School Districts 24 and 30, urged to fight for more seats in the city and specifically in immigrant communities.

Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland (D-East Elmhurst), chairwoman of the Council’s Finance Committee — which oversees the city’s budget — said she will be working with Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan, Bronx) to allocate more money in next year’s budget for additional school seats. She also said she’d be working with the Mayor’s Office to have the money for the seats in the preliminary budget proposal.

“I wouldn’t be shocked if we don’t see it,” she added.

Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), the Education Committee Chairman, said the issue of overcrowding was ignored by the Bloomberg administration and that the city needs to once again focus on finding additional seats.

“Now, I think it’s time to really tackle this problem. This is a citywide issue that we really have to tackle,” Dromm said.

Dromm, a former school teacher, spoke in Spanish about how he would instruct more than 30, sometimes 35, students at a time and a supply closet at his school was turned into a learning space.

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnsyide), the majority leader, also told parents at Make the Road’s headquarters he would fight for additional school space, and added he appreciated the advocacy of the group.

“Te quiero mucho,” he said, which translates to “I love you very much.”

Make the Road called on the DOE to find space for schools and ensure the needs of immigrant communities are being met.

The DOE did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

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