Parents fight class size mandate law

Liu defends his bill and points to DOE; activists fear loss of services

by Jony

Some parent activists are willing to sacrifice smaller class sizes to keep accelerated and specialized programs, and they protested a bill that would mandate the former last Friday.

Around two dozen people, including parent leaders from Districts 25, 26 and 28, gathered outside state Sen. John Liu’s Bayside office in near-100 degree heat to protest the bill, which was introduced along with the mayoral control extension at the end of May, and called on Gov. Hochul to veto it.

The protest ended with an impromptu invitation to Liu’s office to discuss the matter.

“Even if we didn’t ask for it, we’ll take it as a gift if there’s no catch,” said Yiatin Chu, a resident of Whitestone and co-founder of PLACE NYC. “But we don’t need to look hard to know that mandating smaller class sizes will harm our students.”

Attendees expressed fears that students would be bused to other districts or taught in trailers to comply with the new mandates.

They are also concerned that programs such as gifted and talented would be cut and that AP courses and seats in the specialized high schools would be targeted.

“We are not here today because we are ideologically against smaller class size,” said Effie Zakry, a District 28 parent and member of the Citywide Council on High Schools, who was speaking independently of the group. “What we are against is the consequences of mandating a smaller class size.”

Zakry continued, “We have overcrowded schools. Some of them are close to double their capacity. Where are we going to hold all these extra classes? There’s simply no space for this. And all the extra teachers. Many experienced teachers already retired in the past two years.”

The mandate, if enacted, would be phased in over five years and cap classes at 20 for kindergarten through third grade, 23 for fourth through eighth and 25 for high school.

Chu estimates that, due to the overcrowding in some districts and in order to comply with the mandate, over 2,600 students from District 25 and 2,100 students from District 26 would have to be placed out of in-demand schools.

There are some exemptions in the bill, including for schools that have issues with capacity.

In the follow-up meeting with the activists, Liu maintained that mandating smaller class sizes was integral to providing a “sound, basic education,” which court rulings found was not being provided in New York, especially in the city. In 2006, the New York State Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, which was created by parents who claimed children were not being offered an adequate education.

Schools were ordered to receive $5.5 billion in increased operating funds, or Foundation Aid.

Liu stated on Friday that the main reason students were not receiving the standard of education mandated by the state Constitution was because of “excessive” class sizes, according to the ruling. The efficacy of smaller class size continues to be debated but Liu called upon his own experience as a teacher and has said that it is “intuitive.”

“Many of my colleagues — Robert Jackson, Jessica Ramos, many others — they have been demanding that we require the New York City Department of Education to lower class sizes,” said Liu.

“In the past three years, I have not pushed that. Why? Because we never fully funded Foundation Aid. But now that we are fully funding Foundation Aid, we need to go back to what that money was supposed to be used for,” he said.

Liu continued to counter arguments that it was an “unfunded” mandate and also stated that the money must go toward the factors found to be hindering the “sound, basic education” and not afterschool or enrichment programs, for example, which are not part of that definition.

Mona Davids, a Bronx parent and president of the New York City Parents Union, argued, “We fought for this money to go directly to our children — to go toward providing academic intervention, tutoring services, services for our students with special needs, to expand G&T classes, to get more specialized high schools and quality schools in our districts … Not to give the [United Federation of Teachers] 13,400 new teachers when we’re hemorrhaging students.”

Schools Chancellor David Banks has, in past statements, criticized the proposed mandate, saying it would force school leaders to prioritize class size above safety programs, dyslexia screenings, social workers, school nurses, summer programming and more.

The bill passed with overwhelming majorities in the Assembly and the Senate and Liu has said that he is confident the governor will sign it.

To the parents hoping that she veto it, he suggested they go make their strongest case in Albany. The Legislature would likely override a veto, he added.

He said now is the best time to enact it because enrollment in city public schools is down: “We don’t like the fact that enrollment is down, but it is what it is. We should use the opportunity.”

The aid that the state is providing will go toward building new schools, outfitting classrooms and hiring teachers and if it is not used properly, the state could withhold it, Liu said.

He added that the DOE has no plans to build additional capacity in Queens. Chu believed that as well, finding in her research only an extension to MS 216 in Fresh Meadows on the School Construction Authority’s docket for the next five years in Districts 25 and 26. However, while no new schools are proposed, additions also are planned for PS 32, 169, 26, 41 and 46, according to the School Construction Authority’s 2020-24 capital plan.

In the meantime, Chu wonders what will be done with the students in overcrowded areas before new schools are built.

“The point is, the DOE has no plan,” said Liu. “I need to pass my bill to get the DOE off their butts and come up with a plan,” he continued.

Liu maintained that the impacts parents voiced concerns about are not “suggested” or “empowered” in his bill, although Chu and others told him it opens the door to such repercussions.

“I hear very loud and clear, and I will keep a very close eagle’s eye on the DOE to make sure that they’re not using this as an excuse to begin a massive citywide busing plan,” he said.

Addressing a possible example parents raised about kids from overcrowded schools being shifted to those with low enrollment, Liu said, “I’m trying to prevent a situation where a kid could go to Francis Lewis but then is sent to Springfield Gardens.”


This article originally misstated the extent of school expansions planned in Districts 25 and 26. Additions are planned at six schools, according to the School Construction Authority’s 2020-24 capital plan. We regret the error.

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