We as a school community face a watershed moment in our fight against construction next to P.S. 163.
Together, we must decide a course of action that will profoundly affect this school over the next three years - and beyond. This course of action may also affect the health and education of each and every child, teacher and administrator at P.S. 163. Our task force believes every parent at our school needs to be aware of what is at stake. Since our inception, we have worked to keep the 163 community fully informed of the process of opposing the construction project. Please read this information carefully.
Jewish Home Lifecare (JHL) is the organization that wants to build a 20-story tower directly to the east of P.S. 163. Our task force currently estimates this project will be approved by state authorities. If JHL gets its way, construction could begin as early as June 2015. Although we are working on a legislative initiative that has the potential to substantially mitigate (from a noise perspective) or even stop the project, we have to acknowledge the possibility that there will not be enough political will to push this legislation through.
Other public schools in similar situations have been relocated by the Department of Education (DOE). But this has happened only after construction was under way and children's health and test scores started to suffer. We asked our principal, Donny Lopez, and the DOE to explore this option for P.S. 163 before construction begins. However, Mr. Lopez refuses to consider this option and is unwilling to advocate for it (or any other measures) before the DOE. He has not explained his decision to us, other than to say he cannot champion our school's cause because he is a DOE employee.
The Choice We Must Make
The choice we as parents must now make is 1) negotiate with JHL, in hopes that they will agree to the list of demands we believe would help mitigate the risks the JHL project poses to the school and our children or 2) take JHL to court in hopes of stopping the project outright.
What Is Our Chance of Success?
Mitigation measures we have demanded include 1) new windows on the east side of the school, 2) central air conditioning to filter sound and ensure comfortable classrooms and common areas when windows will have to be closed due to excessive noise and possible airborne particulate matter, 3) transfer of the classes in the trailers to a safe and secure nearby location with the School Construction Authority agreeing to build our school new classrooms to replace the trailers, 4) a substantial contribution to our PTA and 5) the hiring of a third-party environmental consultant who will monitor the school for toxins, vibration and noise. While these will go a long way to making our children and teachers more comfortable during construction, it could still leave them vulnerable.
A law suit is the other option. Rene Kathawala, the chair of our school's task force and the attorney representing the parent interests at P.S. 163 as pro bono counsel, estimates our chances of winning a lawsuit that would prohibit construction outright at less than 50 percent. Factoring into this estimate is the refusal of our principal and teachers' union to stand with us in vocally opposing the construction. They they have not provided credible reasons for this to the school community. Without this engagement, our arguments in court may seem like the overblown anxieties of a clutch of parents, rather than a vital issue that threatens the very existence of our school as we know it.
We firmly believe our best way forward is to present a united front of parents, teachers and administration. We know that a school is only as good as its teachers, and P.S. 163 has some of the best. After all, the school is their place of work and their well-being and ability to teach and lead are of crucial importance to us.
Where Do You Stand?
Please take time to reflect on how you feel about this for yourself and your family. Reach out to us if you have a strong conviction one way or the other. Talk to your child's teacher or Mr. Lopez if you want to understand where they stand on the issue. Explore our website, watch our video, follow us on Twitter and Facebook.
It's your school.