The city Department of Education abandoned a fledgling French dual-language program at the 11th-hour last week after stonewalling parents for months, fuming families told The Post.
More than a hundred backers hailing from Haiti and Lebanon to Senegal and Quebec spent nearly two years establishing the small program in Manhattan’s District 2. It finally launched starting with pre-k kiddies in the fall.
But the DOE declined to extend and expand the program next year at a new site, asserting that the district needed space for kids who might return to the city after fleeing amid COVID-19.
“This was an effort by a large, multicultural group of parents,” program backer Nadia Levy told The Post. “It represented what makes New York special. But in the end, it was just empty promises to work together from the DOE. They did what they always do — fail to deliver.”
The families had first begun gathering support from both elected officials and members of their local parent advisory panel, Community Education Council 2, in 2018.
With the DOE’s blessing, the group started the program this year with 36 pre-K kids at an Upper East Side facility and aimed to gradually expand it to accommodate more children next year, having the students go through the system in the dual-language program at least through the fifth grade.
Stressing that the program didn’t cost any additional money and drew from a diverse racial, socio-economic and ethnic pool, the families said the DOE promised to work with them — but suddenly began ignoring their e-mails in recent months.
Finally, in a message sent last week, Manhattan Executive Superintendent Marisol Rosales told stunned parents that the DOE was withdrawing its support and that existing enrollees were on their own.
Making matters worse, the DOE issued its ruling just days before the deadline for kindergarten applications Tuesday, leaving at least some parents scrambling to find spots in regular programs, the families said.
The department told The Post that the main proposed final host site for the program — PS 290 on East 82nd Street — could not accommodate it.
“We have been exploring ways to open the potential kindergarten program for months, and after a thorough review process it was determined that due to a lack of existing need, resources and space the program is not sustainable long-term,” said DOE spokeswoman Sarah Casasnovas. “We continue to explore other language learning opportunities in the district.”
At a meeting with parents last week, DOE officials said the French-speaking kids could not be hosted because families who fled District 2 schools this year were expected to eventually return — and that space needed to be held for them.
Most schools in the district lost between 50 and 100 kids this year as families left the city amid the coronavirus crisis.
But Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, a champion of the program, dismissed the DOE’s rationale.
“This school is under-enrolled,” she said of PS 290. “I don’t believe that at all. It’s offensive that they are not embracing these parents.”
City Councilman Ben Kallos, who also pushed for the program, called for its reinstatement.
“The faster we bring the program to more francophone families that need it, the better off the children will be,” he said.
Manhattan Assemblywoman Rebecca Seawright asserted that the DOE failed to engage the program’s boosters.
“Parents have been left out of the conversations with Department of Education officials and have been told in the eleventh hour that their child will not be able to continue in their cherished program,” Seabright said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Levy said parents are more disillusioned than ever.
“The mayor and chancellor have a remarkable way of alienating everyone – both the families who have fled the city and those who remain,” she said.