NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Officials getting ready for a massive expansion in the city’s prekindergarten enrollment were spending the last day before school starts finishing inspections of every single facility.
Inspectors representing the Health, Fire and other departments were brought in to check the sites, and a team from the Department of Education was expected to complete its walk-throughs of all locations Wednesday.
But hundreds of parents have been suddenly informed that their prekindergarten centers were either shut down or had their opening day postponed.
On Tuesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration said it is shuttering nine pre-K facilities and delaying the start dates at 36 others.
Safety and integrity concerns were behind the decision to revoke contracts at the nine centers, which were to serve 265 students. Those students will be reassigned to other sites.
“We came to the conclusion that either because of health and safety or qualitative issues those programs should not open this year,” de Blasio told reporters, including CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer.
De Blasio said Wednesday’s the pre-K expansion is “historic” and will change the lives of tens of thousands of children. The mayor said that “everything will be ready to go” at the sites that are opening.
Officials said the vast majority of the 1,700 sites will open on the first day of school Thursday and are poised to serve an unprecedented jump from 20,000 to 53,000 students in a single year.
About 900 children are enrolled in the 36 programs being delayed. Most of those will open Monday, but some may be stalled a few weeks, officials said.
“We made a promise to parents that it would be high-quality, safe programs, and this is part of making sure that we are only putting children in high-quality safe programs,” Deputy Mayor Richard Buery, the administration’s pre-K czar, told Kramer.
The nine programs whose contracts were revoked are:
• Child Development Support Corp. (Clinton Hill)
• Rainbow Afterschool Program (Clason Point)
• Birch Family Services Center (East Flatbush)
• Manhattan Early Childhood Center (Washington Heights)
• Queens Early Childhood Center (Springfield Gardens)
• Watson Avenue Early Childhood Center (Parkchester)
• Rainbow Montessori (East Bronx)
• Alpha Academy (Jamaica)
• Rising Stars Islamic School (Jamaica)
Rainbow Montessori Academy Executive Director Nidla Gibson insisted she has provided investigators with everything they have asked for.
“Everything that they want, we’ve given them,” she told WCBS 880’s Paul Murnane. “Our books are open. We have nothing to hide.”
The city Department of Investigations said a probe has been launched on integrity issues, but Gibson charges it’s all about a dispute she’s having over payments from the city, Murnane reported.
“A payback or retaliation because I’ve made such complaints against them,” she said.
Bruce Rivera said he received the news that Rainbow Montessori Academy, where his son, Elias, was slated to attend pre-K, would not be opening in a text message Saturday.
“We don’t know where to send him,” Rivera said. “You know, we spent the time buying school supplies, not looking for schools the week of school. My child’s education is very important to me and to be left like it’s just some, ‘Oh well, here’s a text. Now figure it out.'”
Of the 265 kids with no place to go, officials say they have found seats for 125.
“Let me emphasize to all the parents who are concerned, every child will get a seat,” de Blasio said. “That is guaranteed.
“Nothing has been attempted in our country in any city on this scale before,” the mayor added. “It is groundbreaking. Of course it was going to come with challenges, but we’re navigating those challenges quickly.”
Last week, city Comptroller Scott Stringer said the mayor’s office had submitted to him just 141 of more than 500 contracts — or about 30 percent — for pre-K providers. Stringer said failure to submit the contracts prevented his office from conducting health and safety checks.
“This is the paperwork that identifies a child pornographer, paperwork that looks at open violation,” Stringer said. “This is the paperwork that matters for parents with children.”
By law, every pre-K staffer must clear a background check, though a teacher whose approval is pending is permitted to deal with children if a cleared supervisor is present.
Administration officials stressed that every staffer has submitted a background check but, after nearly a week of inquiries, could not say how many have been cleared.
De Blasio downplayed the comptroller’s comments last week, saying some contracts are often submitted after school opens and that several city agencies, including the investigation, health, education and fire departments, had already been checking paperwork and facilities.
About 600 public school buildings and 1,100 community-based organizations will host pre-K students. All 45 singled out Tuesday by the de Blasio administration are community-based organizations.
On Wednesday, de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, released an online video touting the launch of the city’s universal prekindergarten program.
“Everyone benefits,” McCray says in the video. “If you start a child’s learning at a very young age, there’s just nothing better that you could possibly do to help them in terms of becoming productive citizens later on.”
McCray also wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Daily News, which said pre-K had been inaccessible to most of the city’s lower-income children.
“Unfortunately, far too many children have missed out on pre-K because it was simply too expensive,” the city’s first lady wrote. “It was certainly a financial stretch for Bill and me. For families struggling to cover the basics, paying for pre-K simply isn’t an option.
“That’s why tomorrow’s launch of universal pre-K in New York City is such a game-changer. By next September, every 4-year-old will have access to free, high-quality, full-day pre-K programs located in their community.”
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