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Know Your Rights
Source: WNYC Public Radio
Subject: Education Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Report Finds School Crowding Is Worse in Immigrant Communities

New York City knows it has a problem with school crowding. It recently acknowledged nearly 540,000 students attended schools that were over capacity in the 2014-15 school year. 

But a new report by the advocacy group Make the Road New York finds schools in immigrant neighborhoods are prone to being especially packed. Using census figures and data from the city’s own capital plan for school construction, the group’s research coordinator, Daniel Altschuler, said overcrowding is “particularly pernicious in immigrant communities.”

“As the immigrant population in a particular district increases, so too does the overcrowding problem,” he explained. 

This doesn’t mean the problem is limited to a few school districts with a heavy percentage of foreign-born families, such as Jackson Heights and Corona, in Queens. Throughout the city, Altschuler said, when the number of immigrants in a district rises, the Department of Education’s plan to build new seats has even more trouble keeping up with demand.

“For every 1 percent increase in the immigrant population of the district, the overcrowding problem is 100 seats greater,” Altschuler said.

The report calls on the city to go beyond its commitment to fund about 33,000 new seats in the coming years. Although the city has acknowledged the need is actually 49,000, many advocates believe it’s really much closer to 100,000.

Altschuler said the city should consider adding the floors to buildings whenever possible, changing zoning lines and urging private developers to become partners in building new schools. One luxury apartment building developer in Dumbo provided a new school and has called on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration to encourage more of these deals.

Department of Education spokeswoman Devora Kaye reviewed Make the Road’s new report, and said the city agrees on the need to move students out of overcrowded classrooms and trailers. She said 4,000 new seats are being added in district 24, in Queens, which includes Corona.

“We will continue to engage families, community members and elected officials to ensure we are doing everything possible to provide the high-quality facilities that help our students thrive in and out of the classroom,” she added.

Kaye also said the city is making a special attempt to reach out to families who don’t speak English by training parent coordinators, and through a hotline for parents to make their language access concerns known to the system.

For Bertha Asistimbay, a member of Make the Road’s Queens parents’ committee, the most immediate concern is overcrowding. Two of her daughters attend P.S. 19 in Corona, which had nearly 2,000 students last year and was at more than 140 percent of its capacity. The building relies on portable classrooms, or trailers, to accommodate all the pupils.

The Ecuadorian immigrant said her older daughter once got a urinary tract infection from not going to the bathroom all day, because the one in her trailer wasn’t working. She wants the trailers removed and hopes the city will create new schools.

“It’s a problem, mainly, for the kids who are in trailers,” she said, detailing other problems with the portable classrooms. “In the winter, in rain, in sun, they have to come and go from the main building to the trailers.”

The city has said it is committed to removing all trailers over the next few years.

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