Brooklyn Residents Voice Concerns About New Center for Suspended Students

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Some residents in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn are taking issue with the city's decision to open a new site for suspended high school students in their neighborhood. But they insist this isn't a NIMBY -- not-in-my-backyard -- issue.

Instead, many are worried about the Department of Education's decision to house the site in an old administrative building at 355 Park Place. They question whether the building is an adequate site for learning.

"There's no kitchen and no cafeteria," said Susan Metz, a former high school teacher and chairwoman of the Committee on 355 Park Place for the Park Place-Underhill Avenue Block Association. "There's no recreational space for the young people to move around within the building, and there's no recreational space outside of the building."

She also points out that the basement of 355 Park Place frequently floods and she has concerns over whether or not there are adequate bathroom facilities.

The site, which will open on the first day of school September 6, will serve as an Alternative Learning Center for students serving both short-term and long-term suspensions. A long-term suspension is generally classified as more than 30 days. The state requires that school districts provide alternative sites for students serving these suspensions, and New York City has at least 38 such centers citywide, according to education officials.

Most suspension centers are in Department of Education facilities but sometimes the city leases other spots. The United Federation of Teachers agreed to house a suspension center last fall, with the city paying market rent.

Marge Feinberg, a spokeswoman for the Education Department, said the site in Prospect Heights will serve no more than 70 students at a time. Students will be provided meals and will have a communal place to eat lunch, she said.

But Councilwoman Letitia James, who represents the area, said the building can not take the place of a proper school.

"It is not a healthy learning environment," she said. "You have high school students who are suspended, and given this population you would think that you would have a more focused and structured approach to education."

Ms. Metz said residents from her block association also worry that the new center could disturb the tranquility of the neighborhood, especially if the "young people are not served in a way that meets their needs," she said.

Jason Orans, a neighborhood resident, said the building sits adjacent to a popular toddler playground where his two-year-old daughter plays nearly every day.

"You hear a bunch of kids under five playing and screaming and laughing," he said. "And I think that if you heard that, it's very unlikely that you would say, 'You know what this needs? This needs a facility for suspended teenagers.'"

Ms. Feinberg says the Education Department has met with community members to hear their concerns. She said students at the site will be dismissed for the day at staggered times and will be monitored by school staff as they leave the building. She also said the site will have a "community coordinator" available to residents.