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The special education students are in District 75 - a district that operates citywide to serve the city's learning disabled student population.
The students are taught in schools throughout the city, often outside the districts where they would normally attend school, necessitating that they travel longer distances to get to school.
Years ago, when PS 173 had space to spare, the school welcomed students from other districts that were crowded as well as the District 75 students.
But now, with enrollment up and space at a premium, many of the school's parents believe taking in the special ed students is hurting their own children, and they worry about where room will be found when the inevitable population crunch hits the school even harder in the coming years.
"Don't get me wrong, they are kids that deserve an education," said PS 173 PTA Co-president Regina Dougherty. "But this year we had to turn away an entire kindergarten class because there was no room."
"In October, District 26 as a whole petitioned the Board of Education to do something about the space issue and it was signed by thousands of parents," Dougherty said.
"I was called a Nazi by one of the District 75 parents," said PTA member Andrea DeBartolo, who is an outspoken proponent of relocating District 75 students. At the time, she was collecting signatures for the District 26 petition, she said.
"But some of these students must travel almost two hours to get here. Classrooms should be in their districts or at least closer to them," she said. "I think they should give us back at least one classroom."
DeBartolo, whose daughter, Jane, is in second grade, said she collected more than 350 signatures at the school.
State Assemblyman Mark Weprin (D-Bayside) was invited by PS 173 parents to speak about the overcrowding issue at a PTA meeting last Thursday.
"Right now we are near overcrowding," Weprin told the parents. "District 26 is just about at capacity, maybe just over capacity."
Characterizing District 26 as already one of the most overcrowded districts in the city, Weprin said that over the next five years the district's population was predicted to skyrocket.
"We need to start building new buildings," he said "We have given up a lot of buildings in District 26 to other school districts. We have many more special ed kids than any other school district."
"School kids from District 26, I feel, should have first priority," he said later in a phone interview. "If you have a kid in Astoria, sending him to District 26 doesn't make much sense for that child. If there is room in other school districts, they [the Board of Education] should obviously try to find it."
Astoria is in District 30 in western Queens, where most schools are more crowded than in District 26.
Margie Feinberg, a spokeswoman for the Board of Education, acknowledged that District 26 had overcrowding problems, but would say only that there were no plans to transfer District 75 students from PS 173.
©2001 Community Newspaper Group
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