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Panel votes to relocate NYC’s West Prep Academy amid allegations of racism, anti-immigrant sentiment

A citywide education panel on Wednesday night approved a controversial plan to relocate a small Upper West Side school and its highly regarded autism program in order to space for rapidly expanding dual-language classes with migrant families.

The Panel for Educational Policy voted 13-0 to move West Prep Academy out of the building it shares with P.S. 145 and a few blocks north into a century-old, former Catholic school — the second time in over a decade the middle school was pushed out of its site. The proposal, announced earlier this school year, was met with fierce backlash from West Prep families and pitted two vulnerable groups of children against each other for space.

“I don’t think this is a good decision at all — I know I will be hurt by this because this building … like my second home,” a West Prep seventh grader told the board. “P.S. 145 is the one that needs more space. So why are you moving us, not them, if they need the space?”

Seven panelists abstained from the vote and two — one a teaching fellow, the other a parent at the schools — recused themselves from the matter.

“I know this proposal was put forth with the best intentions for both communities to grow, and they should grow,” said Kaliris Salas-Ramirez, who voted through the proposal on behalf of Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine. “But the fact is that the West Prep community did not ask for this and they feel displaced and that has to be acknowledged.”

West Prep, where families are mostly Black and Hispanic, enrolled more than 200 students before the COVID pandemic and is projected to serve dozens of fewer children next school year, according to public documents.

Meanwhile, P.S. 145 and its Russian and Spanish dual-language programs have seen a 25% increase in elementary school enrollment over the past five years. Since 2022, the school has enrolled 108 students seeking asylum from Central and South American countries, plus another 37 students from Ukraine and Russia, according to the PTA.

West Prep in an online petition accused P.S. 145’s Russian program of “encroaching” on a neighborhood where few families speak the language, sparking allegations of anti-immigrant sentiment.

“Our school has grown not only in population, but in richness, in empathy,” said Joel Weingarten, a P.S. 145 parent with students in kindergarten and the fourth grade. “Of course, that growth comes with its challenges, the top most of which is our children no longer have a library. Counseling sessions are done in the hall, and our music and other programs that make P.S. 145 so vibrant no longer have space.”

To address those concerns, the city leased the nearby Catholic school building that has since come under fire for a lack of outdoor space and accessibility. Extensive renovations are already underway, including safety enhancements for students with disabilities, and officials are eyeing accessibility improvements and options for a fenced rooftop play space.

“This is not going to be just an OK building that we put lipstick on something that wasn’t very nice,” said First Deputy Chancellor Dan Weisberg. “This is going to be a beautiful building.”

But some West Prep families and teachers still have concerns, especially for autistic students.

“It is clear that you’re not taking into consideration how change and transition are a major issue for students on the spectrum,” said Tracy Ruffin, a seventh-grade special education teacher. “And we the teachers and parents are the ones who will have to deal with the emotional meltdowns that some of our students will experience.”


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