Overcrowding at PS 196 still a problem
by Jennifer Khedaroo
Apr 11, 2018 | 1517 views | 0 0 comments | 68 68 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Frances Hsu is among 38 parents who have created a petition online to resolve the overcrowding problem at PS 196 in Forest Hills. Like previous years, there are not enough kindergarten seats for those in the immediate neighborhood.

So far, the petition has garnered support from nearly 300 people as of Monday.

Although her oldest child will be attending kindergarten in the upcoming school year, Hsu has been following the overcrowding issues that plague P.S. 196 since 2015.

In 2015, both P.S. 196 and P.S. 144 suffered from overcrowding, with 52 kindergarten students being waitlisted in P.S. 196 and 64 in P.S. 144.

By 2017, P.S. 144 didn’t have any problems with overcrowding and work is currently underway to expand the school. However, 56 students were waitlisted at P.S. 196 in 2017. This year, 63 students were placed on the waitlist.

Hsu wants the Department of Education (DOE) to release a specific plan for P.S. 196 going forward.

“If they don’t do anything, this problem is going to get worse and worse,” Hsu said.

DOE acknowledged that it was too early to tell how many seats will be available for the 2019 kindergarten admissions process.

“We continue to work with families to address their concerns and ensure they find kindergarten seats that are best for their children,” said spokesman Doug Cohen.

Sarah Han’s daughter has been waitlisted even though she lives across the street from the school. Knowing that overcrowding was a problem at P.S. 196, Han also applied for five other schools.

Her daughter was waitlisted from all six schools and was instead assigned to P.S. 174, which borders Forest Hills and Rego Park.

“This has happened over the last four or five years, what are they going to do about it?” Han asked. “They don’t have the right eyes focused on it, and it’s incredibly frustrating.”

Following last year’s petition and community outrage, P.S. 196 managed to add another 25-seat kindergarten class for a total of eight classes and 200 seats. But for the upcoming year, the school went back to seven total kindergarten classes.

“We added an additional kindergarten section last year to accommodate more families, and the school will make offers off the waitlist throughout the spring and summer,” Cohen added.

Han argued that the school needed to have the additional class once again for a short-term solution.

“In light of everything going on, I’m surprised they reverted back to seven classes,” Han said. “The eighth class is absolutely necessary and it will provide 25 seats.”

For a long-term solution, Hsu recommends either expanding P.S. 196 or building a new school.

And although P.S. 303 is currently being expanded, it’s still following a lottery system that doesn’t necessarily help families who are zoned for P.S. 196.

When applying for universal pre-K this year, Hsu said she didn’t even list P.S. 196 in her top three choices because she heard without sibling priorities there was no chance to get in at all.

There were only 18 seats and about three times more applicants than that already had siblings at the school.

“The baby boomers are retired and are gradually selling their houses and apartments, while the younger families move in,” Hsu said. “When people move here, they hear that this is the best school in Queens, and they don’t know that there aren’t enough seats.

“It’s really not easy for these families,” she added. “It’s a sense of uncertainty and insecurity everyday.”

Hsu and her family bought their apartment near P.S. 196 five years ago.

“When we bought our apartment, we imagined that we could just walk to school in three to five minutes,” Hsu said. “To have the two kids with me and travel to Kew Gardens, or a much greater distance, I just cannot imagine.”

Han also suggested that officials rezone the school district to be fair to families living around P.S. 196. She found that P.S. 196’s zone is equivalent to three when comparing the size of zones on the other side of Queens Boulevard.

“The area for P.S. 196 is a very wide scope, but the area that we live in is very densely populated with multi-family homes,” she said. “On the south side of Forest Hills, if you look at P.S. 101, P.S. 144, P.S. 99, those schools are surrounded by private, residential, single-family homes.

“It’s not apples to apples when you do the comparison,” Han added.
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