condition unknown

Smoke, odors prompt evacuation of a Brooklyn school building

Students wait for pick-up outside the P.S. 156/I.S. 392 school building, which was evacuated twice this morning in the wake of reports of a bad-smelling smoke.

A Brownsville school campus was evacuated twice this morning after students and staff smelled a “foul, chemical” odor and saw smoke inside the building.

The incident, which scared teachers and students and rendered afternoon pick-up chaotic, comes a day before Chancellor Dennis Walcott is scheduled to speak at one of the schools in the building, P.S. 156, during a town hall meeting for District 23. The building also houses I.S. 392, a middle school for gifted students.

Isbi Lopez, whose two daughters attend P.S. 156, said she was volunteering at one daughter’s pre-kindergarten classroom when she first smelled the smoke shortly after 9 a.m. She said students and staff evacuated to nearby P.S. 323, P.S. 327, and Teachers Preparatory High School.

She said her daughters were allowed to return to their school around 10 a.m. after the fire department deemed the building safe. But the two schools evacuated a second time shortly after, when staff found that the smoke and smell were still present, according to multiple accounts from students and teachers. Several students said the evacuations cut into lunch and most of the day’s classroom time.

Students and staff from the two schools returned to their campus again around 2 p.m. for dismissal, which took place on the school’s playground and basketball court. After-school care was cancelled for the day.

This afternoon, parents who arrived to pick up their children said they were surprised to learn that the building had been evacuated during the day. They said they were frustrated about not being allowed into the building, where many children had left personal belongings. Marge Feinberg, a Department of Education spokeswoman, said the building would reopen tomorrow. She said DOE officials had not yet determined what caused the problem today.”

“What about his coat?” one parent asked a teacher when she met her fourth-grade son at the playground gate. The teacher replied, “He can’t go in to get it.”

“This was the worst day of school ever,” the boy, whose mother requested anonymity, told her. “Guess what, two evacuations! And people were coughing.”

“There were two different smells,” he continued, before running down the street to join a friend. “We smelled oil in the hallway, and when we came back [before the second evacuation], we could smell, like, a gas.”

The problem with the building comes the same day as the city announces changes to its current capital plan. The amendement will add about 180 seats to a Manhattan elementary school in the overcrowded District 2, and it also includes plans for new technology investments such as increased bandwidth. But the plan does not address aging infrastructure and other campus problems like the one that occurred today.

As of late this afternoon DOE officials did not know what condition prompted the evacuation.


To promote virtual schools, Betsy DeVos cites a graduate who’s far from the norm

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in June.

If Betsy Devos is paying any attention to unfolding critiques of virtual charter schools, she didn’t let it show last week when she spoke to free-market policy advocates in Spokane, Washington.

Just days after Politico published a scathing story about virtual charters’ track record in Pennsylvania, DeVos, the U.S. education secretary, was touting their successes at the Washington Policy Center’s annual dinner.

DeVos’s speech was largely identical in its main points to one she gave at Harvard University last month. But she customized the stories of students who struggled in traditional schools with local examples, and in doing so provided an especially clear example of why she believes in virtual schools.

From the speech:

I also think of Sandeep Thomas. Sandeep grew up impoverished in Bangalore, India and experienced terrible trauma in his youth. He was adopted by a loving couple from New Jersey, but continued to suffer from the unspeakable horrors he witnessed in his early years. He was not able to focus in school, and it took him hours to complete even the simplest assignment.

This changed when his family moved to Washington, where Sandeep was able to enroll in a virtual public school. This option gave him the flexibility to learn in the quiet of his own home and pursue his learning at a pace that was right for him. He ended up graduating high school with a 3.7 GPA, along with having earned well over a year of college credit. Today, he’s working in finance and he is a vocal advocate for expanding options that allow students like him a chance to succeed.

But Thomas — who spoke at a conference of a group DeVos used to chair, Advocates for Children, in 2013 as part of ongoing work lobbying for virtual charters — is hardly representative of online school students.

In Pennsylvania, Politico reported last week, 30,000 students are enrolled in virtual charters with an average 48 percent graduation rate. In Indiana, an online charter school that had gotten a stunning six straight F grades from the state — one of just three schools in that positionis closing. And an Education Week investigation into Colorado’s largest virtual charter school found that not even a quarter of the 4,000 students even log on to do work every day.

The fact that in many states with online charters, large numbers of often needy students have enrolled without advancing has not held DeVos back from supporting the model. (A 2015 study found that students who enrolled in virtual charters in Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin did just as well as similar students who stayed in brick-and-mortar schools.) In fact, she appeared to ignore their track records during the confirmation process in January, citing graduation rates provided by a leading charter operator that were far higher — nearly 40 points in one case — than the rates recorded by the schools’ states.

She has long backed the schools, and her former organization has close ties to major virtual school operators, including K12, the one that generated the inflated graduation numbers. In her first week as education secretary, DeVos said, “I expect there will be more virtual schools.”

expansion plans

Here are the next districts where New York City will start offering preschool for 3-year-olds

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, left, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, visited a "Mommy and Me" class in District 27 in Queens, where the city is set to expand 3-K For All.

New York City officials on Tuesday announced which school districts are next in line for free pre-K for 3-year-olds, identifying East Harlem and the eastern neighborhoods of Queens for expansion of the program.

Building on its popular universal pre-K program for 4-year-olds, the city this year began serving even younger students with “3-K For All” in two high-needs school districts. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he wants to make 3-K available to every family who wants it by 2021.

“Our education system all over the country had it backwards for too long,” de Blasio said at a press conference. “We are recognizing we have to reach kids younger and more deeply if we’re going to be able to give them the foundation they need.”

But making preschool available to all of the city’s 3-year-olds will require an infusion of $700 million from the state or federal governments. In the meantime, de Blasio said the city can afford to expand to eight districts, at a cost of $180 million of city money a year.

Funding isn’t the only obstacle the city faces to make 3-K available universally. De Blasio warned that finding the room for an estimated 60,000 students will be a challenge. Space constraints were a major factor in picking the next districts for expansion, he said.

“I have to tell you, this will take a lot of work,” he said, calling it “even harder” than the breakneck rollout of pre-K for all 4-year-olds. “We’re building something brand new.”

De Blasio, a Democrat who is running for re-election in November, has made expansion of early childhood education a cornerstone of his administration. The city kicked off its efforts this September in District 7 in the South Bronx, and District 23 in Brownsville, Brooklyn. More than 2,000 families applied for those seats, and 84 percent of those living in the pilot districts got an offer for enrollment, according to city figures.

According to the timeline released Thursday, the rollout will continue next school year in District 4 in Manhattan, which includes East Harlem; and District 27 in Queens, which includes Broad Channel, Howard Beach, Ozone Park and Rockaways.

By the 2019 – 2020 school year, the city plans to launch 3-K in the Bronx’s District 9, which includes the Grand Concourse, Highbridge and Morrisania neighborhoods; and District 31, which spans all of Staten Island.

The 2020 – 2021 school year would see the addition of District 19 in Brooklyn, which includes East New York; and District 29 in Queens, which includes Cambria Heights, Hollis, Laurelton, Queens Village, Springfield Gardens and St. Albans.

With all those districts up and running, the city expects to serve 15,000 students.

Admission to the city’s pre-K programs is determined by lottery. Families don’t have to live in the district where 3-K is being offered to apply for a seat, though preference will be given to students who do. With every expansion, the city expects it will take two years for each district to have enough seats for every district family who wants one.