By Gary Buiso and MichÈle De Meglio
Swine flu germs don’t discriminate — but it seemed last week that the city does, frustrated parents and administrators at a Borough Park school said.
Public School 231K, a school for students with disabilities housed within PS⁄IS 180, 5601 16th Avenue, was closed May 27 because of swine flu — while in the rest of the building, it was business as usual. P.S. 231 occupies the building’s entire fifth floor, but students share a cafeteria, and are mainstreamed into general education classes.
“That was the issue: that if there’s something that’s worth closing for them, why are you not protecting our children?” said Doreen Daly, president of District 20’s Presidents’ Council and mother of two children at P.S.⁄I.S. 180.
The school reopened June 1.
“There were five kids that they said had the flu. Did they have swine flu? I don’t know. Are they testing these kids? I don’t know. They’re afraid to give information to parents. What are we going to do with it?” Daly continued. “They need to give information to parents.”
Margie Feinberg, a spokesperson for the Department of Education, said her agency takes its cues on swine flu closings from the Department of Heath. “We receive a recommendation from the DOH that they recommend a school to be closed, then the chancellor makes that determination.”
Last Thursday and Friday morning, parents and administrators at PS⁄IS 180 rallied outside the school, blasting the decision not to shutter the entire building.
“They should have closed 180. If you’re closing 231, close 180,” said Laurie Windsor, president of District 20’s Community Education Council (CEC), a parents’ volunteer group advocating for public schools in Bay Ridge, Fort Hamilton, Borough Park and part of Bensonhurst. Following 231’s closure, 180 students stayed home anyway, Windsor said.
“Their attendance was very poor – there was close to 400 students out one day. Parents were keeping them home out of fear, as a safety precaution,” she said.
A parent suggested that 180 was closed because it’s a District 75 school, for physically and developmentally disabled students, and the DOE doesn’t want to risk having these children become sick, according to Windsor.
“She felt that the criteria was probably very different and was taken to a higher level because the 231 children have underlying medical conditions and for them to catch anything is more dangerous. Some of them may have compromised systems, some of them have conditions that are so serious in nature that you cannot risk them being exposed to anything,” Windsor said.
“I e−mailed the chancellor and I got a response. He said there’s a different standard for children in District 75 and that they will close programs faster,” Daly said. “Once the message came back to me that there were different standards, I think that would have eased a bit of [parents’] fears, but really I don’t know if it would have or not.”
The DOH explained that the nurse at P.S. 180 reported no influenza like illnesses, so the school remained open. The agency sent a doctor to the school on May 27 and May 28 to monitor the situation and provide support to the school.
The agency insisted that there are no cookie−cutter criteria for closing a school; each school is looked at on a case−by−case basis. The agency does look at the number of students in the building, and whether they would be more susceptible to contracting the flu.
Daly said her older daughter was adamant, but frightened, about going to school because she had perfect attendance, while her younger child stayed home. “The kids were saying hold your breath on the staircases because it is in the air,” Daly said.