Queens Chronicle: Corona daycare fights July closure
School says letters sent last week to diverse families were only in English
Posted: Thursday, April 30, 2015 10:30 am | Updated: 12:39 pm, Thu Apr 30, 2015.
by Cristina Schreil, Associate Editor | 0 comments
One hundred and thirty-five families are scrambling after news that their daycare, the Malcolm X Early Childhood Educational Center on Northern Boulevard in Corona, will close in July.
Parents and school officials say they were notified just last Tuesday, many of them told at an emergency meeting called by the city Administration for Children’s Services.
According to a spokesperson for the ACS, parents were informed in a letter dated April 9 that the program will close July 24 after more than 40 years.
“When the lease ended on Jan. 3, 2015, the landlord sought to double the rent,” the spokesperson said, adding that after a “lengthy negotiation,” the city secured an extension until July 31. “As soon as the negotiations were complete, we notified the parents of the center’s closure on April 9 via a letter sent to each of the families.”
At the emergency meeting, ACS representatives gave families a list of all childcare centers in a three-mile radius and information on area universal pre-K programs.
But parents and administrators at a press conference in front of the school Monday asserted that they’re still in an unfair position. They are asking for one more year at the site to find a new site.
“The registration has already been closed. So this is what creates the problem,” said George Gibson, a community activist. “Most of the centers already have people, they’ve already filled their slots. We would like to draw attention to the Mayor’s Office, letting them know how ACS treated the parents here.”
Gibson referred to how the letters, list of schools and surveys originally doled out that would give families priority when applying to other programs were initially given in only English.
“We have 80 to 85 percent Hispanic, Chinese and Indian [residents],” he said.
At the press conference, parents and a couple of young children held signs in different languages protesting the closure.
“I’m feeling disappointed. I’m feeling discrimination,” said Miriam Montes, the daycare’s parent coordinator and a mom to two students who were once on the school’s waiting list for more than a year. She added that she had to translate the panic-inducing news to many parents.
Many said they are upset that they had to re-do the application for universal pre-K.
“It was sad to hear that the only reason our school was closing is because the city and the landlord could not come to a financial agreement,” said Principal Hope Cannady. “That’s what we were told. A school should not close for that reason, especially when it’s doing very well.”
Cannady and other staff members urged parents and community members to flood the Mayor’s Office with requests.
“When you say the landlord and the ACS could not reach an agreement, that means it’s all about money and someone’s greed,” said Democratic District Leader George Dixon. “Solamente dinero.”
Xiomara Dunning, a family services worker at the school since 2002, said that in the worst-case scenario, she and around 40 others would be out of a job.
She said families have been flocking to her for help, as she typically helps children be placed into different programs, but she feels her hands are tied.
“I’ve been calling all the centers in the community, there are no ACS Head Start programs in the community, all the daycares are private, the fees are like $800 a month,” Dunning said. “Our families are tied up. They’re telling me now, ‘Am I going to have to stop working, going to school?’”
Tristan Massalay-Ellis, director of community relations at City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras’ (D-East Elmhurst) office, said Ferreras helped to provide the center with translated materials and reached out to Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña to help parents find a site for next year.
“Her immediate response was that this is unacceptable,” Massalay-Ellis said of Ferreras. “One of the concerns that many of these parents have shared is that they’re out here alone, they’re by themselves looking for a site for their children.”
He added that one parent has expressed that she is going to have to stop going to school and work to hunt for a site for her 2-year-old.
Nancy Conde, chief of staff to state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst), also said they have asked the city repeatedly to help relocate the daycare center, as opposed to forcing the community to drift apart.
The ACS spokesperson also said that they will provide some vouchers for private school programs and has connected with the Day Care Council of New York, which can help staff with job placement.
But several parents insisted they don’t want to think about “Plan B” and are hoping Mayor de Blasio can help them stay.
Madeline Nunez, a parent to a 4-year-old and a 3-year-old at the daycare, said they are hoping for the best.
“My kids they love coming to school,” Nunez said. “Every day, even Saturdays and Sundays they say, ‘Wait, we don’t go to school today?’”