DOE reverses course on District 26’s valued G&T program

By Bob Harris

People buy a house or a co-op or rent in a neighborhood for several reasons, one of which is the quality of the education system. District 26 has a fine gifted and talented program, which attracts many middle-class families and makes it the top district in the city. To enter the program, young children at age 4 have to pass a test and be evaluated.

Gifted Magnet classes were sent to MS 158 and MS 67 since the inception in the 1980s. MS 74 was only added last year. Next year five schools — MS 67, 74, 158, 172 and 216 — will be offering two Gifted Magnet classes.

Suddenly, last Nov. 13, the city Department of Education announced that the children will not automatically move into middle school as a group. Parents were unhappy, confused and angry.

It is the stability and quality of schools in District 26 which keeps it performing well. Some parents moved into the area just to have their children in this G&T program. Some are in the act of moving so young children can be in the program through middle school.

For years, most children in other districts throughout the city have had to reapply for middle school, but District 26 was exempted since the program has existed since the 1980s. District 30, in western Queens, also had an exemption to the retesting until 2019 because parents fought for their program.

The parents in District 26 fought and more than 750 signed an online petition to permit students in elementary schools’ G&T programs to continue on into middle school.

To make things harder, it seems that about 700 students in the district earned fours on both the math and English exams while there are only 165 seats in the program. District Superintendent Anita Saunders heard some information about changes in March 2013, but only received details in November 2013, when the rest of the district received the news.

District 26 CEC member Susan Shiroma informed me that the thinking of the DOE was to expand G&T to more students in middle school. Was this their way of doing it?

Now the DOE says it will permit the younger students to progress automatically into middle school and also open more G&T classes. It is too bad that they had to issue their poorly devised plans and cause so much frustration for parents and their children.

At the other end of the spectrum, parents are filing so many cases against the DOE for the poor handling of their special-needs children that there is a backlog of cases waiting to be heard. Last year, the DOE decided to shift special education students out of special schools and into local public schools.

Parents can see the difference and are now suing the DOE to have their children put into private special schools. One can read articles about kindergarten children restrained in padded school cells or arrested in regular or charter public schools because the teachers in regular classes do not know how to handle these children.

Specially trained teachers and special programs are needed and they are expensive, but they are the only appropriate locations for many special-needs children who often flourish.

GOOD NEWS OF THE WEEK: State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), state Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens), members of the Queens Civic Congress and the Queens Chamber of Congress are opposed to the latest proposal to put tolls on the East River bridges.

BAD NEWS OF THE WEEK: Assemblyman Eric Stevenson (D-Bronx) was convicted of bribery and extortion charges and was removed from office. He was punished for his crimes. City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan) has admitted that she failed to include rental income from a house she owns for four years on her city financial disclosure form.

What is her punishment for that failure? Well, she paid income taxes for the roughly $100,000 she earned. Yet!

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