Elementary School Serving Immigrant Kids on Brink of Closing

Carmen Rojas (center), head of the organization, Padres abogando por sus hijos (Parents Advocating for their Children), leads the protest against the closing of P.S. 132 Juan Pablo Duarte in Washington Heights.

Dozens of parents with children in Washington Heights’ P.S. 132 Juan Pablo Duarte  held a demonstration against the city’s attempt to shut down the school that serves the largest population of immigrant children who recently arrived in the United States.

The protesters, mostly Dominican parents, also requested that the city preserve the school’s name no matter what happens to it. Juan Pablo Duarte was the founder of the Dominican Republic, which will celebrate the bicentennial of his birth on Jan. 26, 2013.

Carmen Rojas, president of the organization Padres abogando por sus hijos (Parents Advocating for their Children), said that Juan Pablo Duarte is on the list of 36 elementary and middle schools that the Department of Education could close at the end of the year. The school has received a grade of “D” for academic performance over the past two years.

“Ninety-five percent of children from the Dominican Republic and other countries who receive ESL classes come here,” said Rojas. “Therefore, when a 10-year-old kid arrives in this country in fifth grade not knowing the language, he or she has to compete with a child who is six years ahead in English. Moreover, since the DOE has cut $1.5 million in funding to the school since 2009, there isn’t enough money for each individual student to make progress.”

In regards to the preservation of the school’s name, Rojas said, “If in the Dominican Republic, we have two important avenues named after John F. Kennedy and George Washington, why in the heart of the Dominican community in New York, they want to close our school, and by doing so, also take away the name of our Founding Father?”

Juan Pablo Duarte is the oldest school in District 6, nearly 110 years old.

The Community Education Council of District 6 issued a statement on Nov. 5 addressed to DOE Chancellor Dennis Walcott pointing out that the school’s low performance is due, among other things, to “a lack of adequate support from the DOE, budget cuts of $1.5 million since 2009, and school overcrowding, with over 35 students per classroom.”

“That is why we are demanding that the DOE restore the funding they took away from Juan Pablo Duarte’s budget, reduce class sizes and work with and support teachers so that bilingual programs can continue to be of high quality,” the council wrote.

Janet Durán, president of the Parent-Teacher Association at Juan Pablo Duarte, who has 8-year-old twins in third grade and 6-year-old twins in first grade, said that what the school needs is more economic and technical support from DOE.

The DOE said that schools which have received grades of F and D, and the ones that have received C or less over a consecutive three-year-period are eligible to be shut down.

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