If Mayor Bloomberg wants to privatize education and dismantle the public school system, he's inadvertently stumbled upon the method.
It started last month. The building is old. It needs brickwork. But the timing is mind boggling.
We returned from spring break to a school that had been transformed into a construction zone. Encircled by scaffolding, the building disappeared behind construction drapes. At night, it glows like installation art, like a ghost. In the morning, despite assurances, the window sills inside classrooms are buried in dust.
There's no money for air purifiers, we're told. Families are being asked to chip in, but a little research shows that an effective air purifier costs somewhere around $500. So far, we've been asked to donate $5 to our younger child's class. With 24 kids in the class, that will give us $120--if everyone donates.
And, we're told, air purifiers are ineffective against this type of dust. The school is asking for HEPA filters for the air conditioners.
All of this is kind of an absurdist comedy.
Nobody objects to the work. It's the timing that's the problem. And because it's a public school, we (the public served by the school) apparently have no voice. We asked them to wait until summer. They wouldn't. We've asked for more thorough clean-up. It was promised but hasn't resulted.
And now, to add injury to insult, the construction authority announced late yesterday that it will begin asbestos abatement on Monday night.
Tuesday, third, fourth and fifth graders begin three days of math testing.
The construction company's inability to contain less carcinogenic dust makes me skeptical that they will be able to effectively contain the asbestos.
As a parent, I cannot in good conscience send my children to a school during the day when asbestos removal is occurring at night.
Either construction needs to be halted until our concerns have been adequately addressed with respect to safety, the containment of toxic contaminants, communication, and notification or many parents will be forced to make the terribly disruptive choice to remove their children from P.S. 29 beginning on Tuesday, April 24.
If we're forced to make that choice for our children it means our third grader won't sit for the state math test. We'll have to figure out a solution for childcare during the day so we can continue to work. We'll continue to try to stop the school construction authority from proceeding without taking into consideration the health and well-being of school children, as well as the residents of Cobble Hill, who pass by the school every day, who breathe the air all night while construction is in progress.
But, it has been demonstrated over and over again in the last month that we as parents have no voice in this process, that the DOE is willing to create a poisonous environment for our children, that there are so many fingers in the pot that everybody can shunt responsibility to someone else. This, more than anything I've encountered in the last several years, has finally begun to make private school look like a desirable alternative to a public school system that steam rolls parents and ignores our reasonable requests for a safe, nontoxic learning environment.
It is my hope that Mayor Bloomberg will intervene and stop the removal of asbestos from around the windows of the school until summer break. It is, also, my hope that he will go further, pressured by our city councilmembers and the vocal opposition of the P.S. 29 community and Cobble Hill, to stop construction altogether until there are not children in the building.
The parents at P.S. 29 are fortunate to have real school choice, not the pretend kind trumpeted by supporters of charter schools and gifted programs. Many of us can send our children to private schools if public schools don't meet our needs. It would be a reach for many, but it's not entirely out of reach.
If Mayor Bloomberg wants to destroy public education--as seems to be the case--forcing high performing, educated and engaged families to opt out of public schools by making those schools into carcinogenic dust traps seems like a stroke of evil genius.