All along, we have been working without the support of Principal Lopez, the teacher's union and the Dept of Education, because all of them have refused to advocate for the children and teachers under their stewardship.
If we follow the example set by Principal Lopez, the DOE and the teacher's union, the next step would be for us all to stand aside and let construction proceed as is now planned. Principal Lopez has told parents that the DOE "chain of command" has instructed him to act only as an "observer" and not to "get involved" with the construction project. Based on DOE policy, he is not even permitted to certify as correct factual information about the school. A request to confirm in writing that the auditorium is in use every day by the entire school and that the windows are usually open to accommodate the temperature was turned down.
Developers now have a green light to bring in heavy machinery - pile drivers, excavators, diesel vehicles - to the lot adjacent to PS 163 as early as a few weeks from now. Any of you who remember the racket kicked up by a wood-chipper parked near the school last spring will have an idea of the noise that will be generated by digging out a foundation. And that will just be the beginning. Construction is slated to go on for three years.
Despite many attempts to gain assurances from the developer that it will provide critical mitigation measures - beyond new windows on the eastern side of the school that have been promised - (at a minimum: sound-proof windows throughout the school, adequate ventilation for classrooms and auditorium, a third-party monitor of potential toxins), none of these have been guaranteed at this point.
Noise is the most obvious concern with construction next to a school, but in this special case, there are also airborn toxins, dust, greatly increased construction vehicle traffic and a 200-foot-tall crane directly above the school to worry about. Even the School Construction Authority, charged with overseeing construction in public schools, acknowledged that it believes the planned placement of the crane is a terrible decision.
We don't need to look any further than PS 51, an elementary school in Hell's Kitchen, that faced remarkably similar circumstances in 2011. Eight months into construction, when children were suffering unexplained nosebleeds, headaches and obviously explained low test scores, their principal and the DOE finally agreed to have the school moved out of harm's way.
Early this past summer, PS 163 parents approached Principal Lopez asking him to consider this option for our school. We identified two empty parochial schools within walking distance of PS 163 that could likely house the entire student body. Principal Lopez flatly refused to explore this. Deputy Schools Chancellor Kathleen Grimm likewise denied our request to investigate this possibility.
We parents must join together now - or never. No one else is looking out for our priceless children or our outstanding teachers and staff.
We have two options:
An "Article 78" lawsuit could be filed, but requires a large number of parents to sign on to the suit. Otherwise it has a slim chance of compelling the developers to alter their course in any way that would protect our school. We must note that our argument in court would be markedly strengthened by an affidavit of support from teachers, administrators or any members of the school staff.
Bill No. 420, a piece of draft legislation introduced to the City Council by our supporter and local representative Mark Levine, would, if passed, prohibit excessive construction noise at sites within 75 feet of any school. But every parent at this school must now call his or her council member to convey the message that this initiative has widespring public support and deserves to go to a vote - soon.
This is where we as a school stand. These are the actions you must take to change the writing on wall.