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A schoolhouse divided on Sullivan Street

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P.S. 15 in Red Hook is a war zone, complete with “incidents” in bathrooms and students stalking each other in stairwells, parents claim.

Those allegations were made at this week’s standing∭’room−only strategy meeting between P.S. 15’s teachers and parents of students upon learning that the PAVE Academy Charter School, which shares space in P.S. 15’s building at 71 Sullivan Street, might stay put for up to three more years.

They say students from PAVE accost P.S. 15’s students in the charter school’s designated stairwells and destroy supplies in their shared bathrooms.

“They’ve taken over our bathrooms and classrooms. What else are they going to take over?” said Melody Ortiz, secretary of P.S. 15’s Parent−Teacher Association (PTA). “It’s sad that we have to walk all the way around because they claim our hallway.”

Spencer Robertson, PAVE’s founder and executive director, told this paper, “There have been a couple of small incidents, nothing that we haven’t been able to work through with the help of the P.S. 15 school leadership. They’re very small, minor incidents that I would assume would happen whether two schools are sharing space or not.”

Robertson said he was never informed of any student−­on−student menacing in stairwells but, “I can’t say that definitely didn’t happen.”

“Did our students once go down their stairwell? Have their students run through our space? Yeah, and we don’t make a big deal about that because it’s not a big deal,” Robertson said.

Instead, he said the administrations for P.S. 15 and PAVE meet every four to six weeks to discuss space−sharing issues, including safety concerns.

PAVE’s parents are fighting back. A letter circulated by a parent says PAVE students aren’t allowed to attend an after−school program run by Good Shepherd Services and have only 10 minutes for breakfast before P.S. 15’s students arrive for their meals.

Robertson explained that PAVE ended talks with Good Shepherd Services when asked to pay $40,000 for students to attend the program.

Parents of P.S. 15 students say the school has a larger student population than PAVE and requires additional time for meals.

Worsening the already tense space−sharing arrangement is PAVE’s announcement that it might have to stay in P.S. 15’s building for longer than its intended two years.

While PAVE has long planned to find its own private facility, doing so has been difficult. The search for an existing building to renovate proved fruitless and now two sites — one on Henry Street and another on Court Street — are being considered as the home for a brand new school building.

Since building a new 40,000−s­quare−foot facility can take several years, PAVE has approached the city Department of Education (DOE) to discuss “contingency plans if the construction takes longer than a year,” according to a department spokesperson. An actual time frame was not specified, Robertson said.

“As far as we knew, next year was going to be the last year. We were going to have to give them two extra rooms,” said Milagros Arroyo, president of P.S. 15’s PTA.

“What about the future of our children? What are we going to do?” said Cheryl West, whose granddaughter attends P.S. 15.

According to a teacher at P.S. 15 who requested anonymity, sharing space with PAVE is “really, really hard. We want to grow and we find that hard to do when our rooms are being taken.”

Members of P.S. 15’s PTA believe PAVE has no intention of leaving.

“They’re trying to build something at P.S. 15. That’s the constructing they’re doing,” Ortiz accused.

“Move out — that’s what they want us to do but that’s what we’re not going to do,” said Gwendolyn Clark, a school aide at P.S. 15.

“That’s totally erroneous,” Robertson countered. “We want to be out of here and in our own space as soon as possible.”

A petition is now being circulated to demand that PAVE leave P.S. 15’s building after the 2009–2010 school year, as expected. Parents hope to replicate the success of Marine Park Junior High School, which recently collected thousands of signatures and convinced the DOE to nix its plan to house a Hebrew−themed charter school in its building.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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