Op-Ed: How Do I Tell My Son the Mayor Is Closing His School?

Suzanne Gigliotti (1)

Last week should have been a joyful celebration for our family as we watched our son Walker graduate to the fifth grade after an exceptional final year of elementary school. But we were completely blindsided when Mayor de Blasio announced that he is evicting Success Academy middle schoolers from a public school building in Brooklyn where Success has been located for the last two years.

The timing of this decision could not be worse. The other schools in my neighborhood are already packed and difficult to get into. How are we supposed to find another excellent school for my son — with only weeks until the start of the new school year — and with our options even more limited because Walker needs extra support?

Success Academy Parent Suzanne Gigliotti

I’ve watched Walker, who has Asperger’s, thrive at Success Academy Cobble Hill. Our family has loved the experience of the past five years; the teachers and staff have shown incredible warmth and caring toward Walker. Any parent with a special needs student knows how difficult and stressful it is to find a school that works for your child in this city. Success has helped Walker make massive strides academically — he is now reading a full two years above grade level — but also socially. His teachers cared so much about his well-being and made sure he had every opportunity to come into his own. I don’t think we could get this kind of help at any other school in the city.

Like other parents, we don’t make any decision lightly when it comes to our son’s future. We deliberately chose Success Academy Lafayette for middle school because we knew it would be one of New York City’s most diverse schools, that it would provide an excellent education, and that it would extend the same warm and supportive environment to my son that he has enjoyed for the past five years.

My son has come to feel at home in this school community. Now, Schools Chancellor Carranza has suggested locating these 70 fifth-graders temporarily in a building rather than allowing them to move into a permanent middle school at Success Academy Lafayette. This would almost certainly set Walker back socially. For children, a school is like a second home. How do I explain to him that he may no longer be able to count on a school where he feels safe?

Part of being a parent means having difficult conversations with your children, but I never expected to have to tell Walker to rein in his excitement for middle school. Since when did parenting mean having to push, pull, and squeeze fairness out of elected officials who claim to be on our side? Year after year, Success Academy families are forced to take a stand for their children’s educational rights. It’s unnecessary, unacceptable, and exhausting.

When Walker was in the first grade, the Department of Education promised us that Success Academy Cobble Hill families would have a middle school for our children. Four years later, after we arm-wrestled with the city to make sure the mayor kept this basic promise, he is again going back on his word. It is so frustrating to hear all of the things the mayor says about working to improve New York’s schools, when his administration actively and consistently goes against the very schools that offer exactly what this city needs.

What makes this especially upsetting is that it’s impossible to gain any understanding of why we are being kicked out. There’s no logical explanation; whatever purpose this is supposed to serve, it has only succeeded in making our family very stressed, confused, and completely fed up. The decision brings uncertainty — and with it, a painful sense that we are being completely disrespected as families, as residents of this city, and as constituents.  The final straw was hearing the Chancellor dismissively tell parents at a Town Hall that the DOE had “found almost 2,000 seats” at other schools across Brooklyn. We had a school and a community that we had chosen; we do not want a temporary fix.

At the moment, it seems that the only certainty in my son’s educational future is that we will continue to face unjust and outrageous treatment from the leaders who should be our strongest partners.

Suzanne is the mother of Walker, who graduated this month from fourth grade at Success Academy Cobble Hill. She lives in Cobble Hill with her family and is a writer and stay-at-home mom.

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