Shuang Wen Supporters Step Up War on NY1
Supporters of P.S. 184, the Shuang Wen School, have launched a major offensive against New York 1, which aired a report earlier this month raising questions about the school’s celebrated after school program. A non-profit organization affiliated with the school, the Shuang Wen Academy Network (SWAN), held a news conference yesterday — stepping up its campaign to discredit the damaging television story.
On October 11th, NY1 reported that the Department of Education is investigating Shuang Wen for charging students $1000/year to attend the school’s “mandatory” after school program. “When NY1 went to education officials and asked if this was legal, they admitted it’s wrong and under investigation,” education reporter Lindsay Christ said.
Three days later, the Shuang Wen Academy Network released a strongly worded news release demanding an apology for the story, which it said used “false facts, outdated materials, misrepresentative parent views and misquoted letters.” Yesterday’s news conference, held at a Chinese restaurant on East Broadway, was led by Winston Chow, the Academy Network’s new executive director. Parent association leaders joined him in “clarifying misinformation” about the school and turning up the pressure on the cable channel.
Chow said the after school program is not mandatory but “supplementary” and “independent of daytime learning.” The decision was made to charge tuition this year, after the city’s Department of Youth and Community Development cut the program’s funding. While they regretted having to charge, Chow said, there’s nothing illegal about the policy. This is because, he explained, the after school curriculum is run by the network (an independent 501-(c)3 organization), not P.S. 184. He added that the network is working on establishing need and merit based scholarships to cushion the blow for low income families.
In a letter to NY1, the board of directors of SWAN alleged: “(Lindsay) Christ knowingly misled the public into thinking P.S. 184’s after school program is mandatory and hence the charge of $1000 for students to attend is illegal… The injuries incurred by Ms. Christ’s fallacious report have unjustly damaged the reputation and funding prospects for both P.S. 184 and SWAN.” The letter demanded a formal apology and said the network “reserves the right to take legal action…”
Chow made a point of acknowledging several community leaders and organizations in attendance at yesterday’s news conference. Among them: representatives from City Councilmember Margaret Chin’s office, the Asian American Federation, the Chinese American Planning Council, the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association and Citibank. Several parents and students also spoke, praising Shuang Wen’s dual language curriculum.
Contacted by The Lo-Down following the news conference, a NY1 spokesperson said the network stands by Christ’s report. Asked about the status of the investigations, DOE Deputy Press Secretary Matt Mittenthal said: “We have several open investigations into allegations of misconduct at the school, and we take this matter very seriously. While these investigations proceed, we hope parents, teachers, and administrators can work together in the interest of the children.”
As NY1 noted, “Shuang Wen is one of the crown jewels of the city’s public school system.” Rupert Murdoch is among the school’s high profile supporters. The city’s political elite turn out for Shuang Wen’s Lunar New Year celebration every year. In advertising materials, P.S, 184 touts the fact that it’s the first school in this country to teach students in both English and Mandarin.
Earlier this year, the Department of Education found Shuang Wen’s did not meet the requirements necessary to be considered an official dual language school. In a power point presentation before Community Education Council 1, principal Ling Ling Chou reported: the “Majority of Mandarin instruction (is) done in the after-school program and through specials such as dance, social studies, and art.”
The school worked out a plan with the DOE to fully integrate Chinese content into the daytime curriculum, beginning with this year’s kindergarten classes. At yesterday’s event, SWAN Board co-chair Ann Lupardi said Chinese instruction had always been a part of the daytime curriculum — and not simply relegated to the after school program.
Shuang Wen was also caught up in the battle earlier in the year surrounding the Girls Prep Charter School. P.S. 184’s building was briefly studied by the DOE as a potential site for the charter’s middle school. “Save Shuang Wen School,” a web site set up by parent activists trying to prevent the move, noted:
Instruction in Mandarin takes place primarily during Shuang Wen’s mandatory after-school program, which begins at the close of the regular New York City public school day and runs from 2:50 to 5:30 pm… Applying the whole language approach, the teachers use only Mandarin with the children and present material in Chinese similar to that covered during the regular school day in social studies, science and math…
In the letter to NY1, SWAN said Christ portrayed the program as mandatory when “she was informed repeatedly by parents and administration that (promotional) materials were over 4 years old and outdated… and that the school and SWAN did not have the budget to update (its) web site and literature.”
Currently P.S. 184’s web site makes no reference to the program being mandatory.