Citing lack of ‘community need,’ DOE denies Mott Haven charter school pre-K seats at 11th hour

Thirty-one siblings of Zeta South Bronx elementary school students were denied pre-K seats for the charter school’s upcoming academic year.
Photo Adrian Childress

Just a few days before the April 4 admissions lottery for NYC pre-K charter schools, the city’s Department of Education denied 31 pre-K seats for siblings of students at Zeta South Bronx citing a lack of need.

Zeta South Bronx, an elementary and pre-K charter school located at 222 Alexander Ave. in Mott Haven, submitted a request to the Department of Education (DOE) to serve five pre-K sections — 90 children — this September. The seats were in extraordinarily high demand as 348 families applied for their children to attend Zeta South Bronx’s pre-K program (nearly 6.5 applications per seat). Eighty-five of those applicants were siblings of current Zeta elementary school students.

However, the DOE claimed the “community need does not justify the additional seats,” leaving dozens of Bronx kids without a seat at their siblings’ schools, and families left to juggle finding new schools for some of their children. The DOE is only permitting Zeta South Bronx — slated to move to a bigger location on Westchester Avenue this fall — to serve 54 pre-K siblings who were selected in the 2022-2023 lottery cycle, leaving 31 other applicants of siblings without a seat in the school.

“Through our universal pre-K program every family has access to the high-quality early childhood learning opportunities their children deserve,” said DOE Spokesperson Jenna Lyle. “Seat increase decisions are designed to be a fair and equitable process, and there are currently ample available Pre-K seats in this community to meet demand.”

Elementary school students have had priority to attend their siblings’ school for several years in NYC and in 2018, that expanded to middle schools.

Parents and teachers rally at City Hall on April 20 advocating for more pre-K seats for Zeta South Bronx elementary school. Photo Adrian Childress

Lyle said no other school in Community School District (CSD) 7 received a pre-K seat expansion this year and the DOE determined that Zeta South Bronx had enough seats to meet the community’s needs. She added that at no point was a commitment made from the city to add more seats at the school.

However, Zeta’s founder and CEO, Emily Kim, couldn’t believe the city would reject their request. On April 20, school representatives and parents rallied at City Hall demanding the additional seats be granted. Knowing Zeta is moving to a bigger building at 425 Westchester Ave., Kim figured the 31 seats would easily be approved.  

“I want to serve every single sibling,” Kim told the Bronx Times. “We are asking the DOE to give us two more sections so we can accommodate 31 sibling applicants.”

Kim also sent letters to Daniel Weisberg, the DOE’s first deputy chancellor, and Mayor Eric Adams expressing her frustrations with the decision.

“Community need requires at least 31 additional seats for our sibling children,” Kim said in the letter. “It is unconscionable for the city to deny siblings in these communities the opportunity to attend Zeta South Bronx’s high-quality pre-kindergarten, particularly as the Bronx recovers from the COVID pandemic. Please do not deny 31 Bronx children a pre-kindergarten seat at their siblings’ school. Grant our request to serve all Zeta siblings in two more pre-kindergarten sections at Zeta South Bronx.”

Each of the CSDs from which the majority of pre-K applicants hail, are extremely high-needs areas of the Bronx, where 65-77% of students are not performing at grade level, 14-20% are English Language Learners, 20-24% have learning disabilities and 94-98% are students of color.

Parents protest against the DOE’s denial of additional pre-K seats at Zeta South Bronx. Photo Adrian Childress

Reach Jason Cohen at [email protected] or (718) 260-4598. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes