By Maria Rocha-Buschel
When Paul and Allison Walsh sent their daughter Jane to PS 40 for pre-K in 2003, they never thought there would be any problems sending the rest of their children there, especially since they haven’t moved from their apartment at 17 Stuyvesant Oval in 18 years.
But now that their youngest daughter Nora is going into kindergarten this coming fall, the family has discovered that there won’t be a spot for her in the popular elementary school because, even though their address was in District 2 when they moved into their apartment, they are now in District 1, according to information from the Department of Education.
In between their oldest and youngest daughters, the Walshes had a son, Gavin, and the first signs of zoning troubles appeared when they tried to enroll him in the school in 2007. Although it wasn’t a problem for Jane to gain admission, Paul said that when they sent in the application for Gavin, they received a call from the school’s principal, noting that 17 Stuyvesant Oval was no longer in District 2.
They were able to get a zoning variance for him to attend because their daughter was still enrolled at the time, but since their son graduated from PS 40 in June 2013, the system effectively views them as a purely District 1 family now, even though Paul noted that they’ve spent the past ten years building relationships in the PS 40 community and have had two children in the school.
Although the zoning line between District 2 and District 1 for elementary schools seems to fall evenly at East 14th Street on the DOE’s online maps, the reality is more complicated. The line actually cuts through Stuyvesant Town around East 18th Street, putting a number of buildings in the complex in District 1 with the majority in District 2.
A memo that the Department of Education released in 2007 further complicated the line, noting that the DOE had been using incorrect information to make school assignments since 1984 for certain buildings in Stuyvesant Town. The memo said that the other odd-numbered buildings in 11 to 21 Stuyvesant Oval, which had been incorrectly assigned to PS 40, were actually zoned for PS 19 in District 1 and that the odd-numbered buildings in 239 to 273 Avenue C, also previously assigned to PS 40, were zoned for PS 61 in District 1.
The Walshes have contacted the Department of Education a number of times about the issue but since none of their children currently attend the school, they can’t apply for another zoning variance and the perpetual response from DOE officials is that the “odd numbered buildings at 11-21 Stuyvesant Oval are and always have been zoned for CSD 1,” according to a response the family received from a representative.
The DOE did not respond to a request for comment from T&V.
“They discount the fact that we as a family have been a part of this school for ten years,” Paul said.
“We’re very engaged with the community there. I’ve asked (the DOE) to meet with me but they’re bureaucratically telling me that they would much rather not have discussions because it’s just easier to say no.”
State Senator Brad Hoylman sent a letter to Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña this past March advocating on behalf of the Walshes for their daughter to be enrolled in the school.
“Given that a former Board of Education error led to the discrepancy in school eligibility and that the Walshes have a strong history with PS 40, I urge you to reconsider the DOE’s determination of this matter,” Hoylman said in the letter.
“My daughter is a dinosaur, the last of her kind,” Allison Walsh implored Sarah Kleinhandler, deputy chief executive for admissions, at a recent Community Education Council meeting. “I promise you that if you let her in, she will literally be the last one in this situation.”