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Shuang Wen Supporters Step Up War on NY1

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SWAN officials, parent leaders address reporters yesterday.

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Network released a strongly worded news release demanding an apology for the story, which it said used “false facts, outdated materials, misrepresentative parent views and misquoted letters.”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.

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  1. The NY 1 report relied on a few (apparently) disgruntled parents, ignoring the vast majority who will do whatever they can — mandatory or not — to send their children to this excellent school. The reporter, clearly inexperienced, didn’t get a full read on the situation and wasn’t saavy enough to see that she was only seeing part of the story. And, by the way, any schmuck can call the DoE, make some outlandish complaint, and get an investigation started. — SW parent.

  2. Three nasty parents (two with legal background) tried to destroy the Mandarin program systematically. They made numerous complaints to DOE to overwhelm the school administration. Next, they crippled grant funding to the program by making false allegations and funding agencies stopped their funding. They afterschool program almost had to end immediately without money, but it was decided that they would stop making the program mandatory and asked parents for a small fee ($1000 for one year of 2 hour per day instruction.)

    The three parents tried to stall the program by multiple steps: first complained that the fee collected by the PA could not be transferred to the program because “it was not mentioned in meeting minutes.” They sent a legal letter demanding the money collected from parents cannot be transferred to the program. They accused the outgoing PA members of criminal acts and called the Manhattan District Attorney. The current PA president then took this matter for a general PA meeting vote and the fund transfer was approved by a vote of 152 to 2.

    But the triad tried to stop the voting process: they had special connection with DOE’s OFEA and OFEA officials came to the school and called for an urgent meeting to stop the vote 30 minutes before the general meeting where voting was to take place. The PA president, Gale Elston, noted that DOE could not interfere with the PA operation and ignore DOE’s OFEA officials. The triad also called up the DYCD, a funding agency, and DYCD told the principal to stop the vote. But the principal could not interfere with PA vote by Chancellor’s regulation A660.

    After the vote, four PA table tennis tables were mysteriously broken… While there is no evidence of who did this, the timing of the vandalism was generally viewed as a punishment for PA for passing the vote by most people. And there have been death threats to the PA president for passing the fund transfer, as well as anonymous letters against the principals.

    Failing to destroy the program by this attempt, they called up a young reporter at NY1 and gave her outdated documents claiming the program forced parents to pay for a mandatory afterschool program. Following this report, they called up NY Times reporter Sarah Otterman and she has been totally biased by the triad. We tried to explain to her our side but we are not lawyers and we are not as persuasive.

    The triad is shameless: during the press conference Wedneday, they called up the Health Department accusing the after school program of violating some health codes and forced the principal to leave the conference to handle the Health Department. So there is a much more disturbing story behind the scene. SW parent.

  3. Can someone explain why the three parents wish to destroy the after school program? If they do not want their children to learn mandarin in the after school program why send them to Shuang Wen?

  4. To Timmyclose: The three parents have private grievances against the principal and they want her fired. I don’t care about their revenge, except they are destroying the education for the other 650 students.

    The New York Times article has been published and may answer your questions. You can get a glimpse of the reason from the following excerpt (I cannot get into personal details for privacy reason):
    “A lot of the black and Hispanic families left because they felt it was racist,” said Edward Primus, another parent who has been vocal in his complaints, and who said the school had asked his daughter to report to a social worker, a move he felt was harassment.”

  5. I came to this article from a blog discussing the same topic and I must say it sounds to me like a Pro-Shuang Wen, Anti–“The Other Guys” public relations campaign.

    The press conference mentioned sounded like it was one-sided (as press conferences go), but it did not mention the 9 investigations I saw on the NY1 report.

    What is the school being accused of? Is there any truth to the investigations? I don’t hear that question being addressed. All I read in the comments here and on the blog is “They are trying to destroy the school.”

    I am willing to give the school, and I guess the afterschool, the benefit of the doubt, but they sound like politicians: “Don’t address the issues, attack the people and maybe nobody will notice.” Anyone from either or all sides please chime back.

  6. There is something not correct about this. I am a Les resident and have witnessed many educational shifts in the neighborhood and plenty of missteps and inequalities. When a long time education reporter like Lindsay Christ is attacked and accused of deliberately reporting false news, it doesn’t make sense or add up. It really got my attention.

    I have seen many of her stories and I have never heard anyone make these kinds of accusations against her. Why would a reporter risk her job and her reputation?

    I think the question should be why is the school trying to attack NY1 and the “triad” rather than whether the $1,000 policy is effecting the children. If the students are not learning Chinese during the day, will their ability to keep their grades up decrease if they don’t attend afterschool? What if a family has more than one child? Are the students able to learn the same lessons during day school as in the after school? The article above says that their own website set up earlier this year says that the afterschool was mandatory. When did it change? Did it change after the NY1 story?

    If P.S. 184 (or Shuang Wen Academy Network) is not answering these questions, they are avoiding what is really important – the children.

  7. I want to jump in with some questions/ clarification re: rules for admissions.

    The school, PS 184 has always been a District One school and as such is to follow District One admissions policies, whether under the old school board that oversaw the creation of this school, or in the many DoE re-organizations that have affected subsequent admissions policies under Mayoral control.

    I have no knowledge of any policy which would allow PS 184 staff to conduct interviews for admission decisions, as VFV describes.

    Also, to my knowledge, under past and present admissions policies and rules, a school in D One can only admit out of district students once all demand for D One seats has been satisfied.

    It has always been reported to me- perhaps not accurately- that there are more students from D One than there are seats, hence the lottery.

    Perhaps I have not well understood the comments from VFV above, or perhaps my knowledge of local admissions policy is flawed.

    Admittedly there was a period- prior to Mayoral Control- when the controlled choice admissions policy strove to increase racial/ethnic integration in school, so a school could conceivably have admitted students from out of district so that the overall demographics could reach targets that reflected the entire school district’s population.
    The most recent data I have on hand puts the racial composition of PS/MS 184 at: 80% Asian/7% White/6% Black and 5% Hispanic.
    The percentage of out of district students is at 37%.

    I am not entirely clear that the policies in place from the school’s inception to the centralization of admission by the DoE explain the school demographics, especially the high number of out of district students, unless there was very little demand for this school from the students and families in the district.

    Can anyone comment on – confirm or deny- my understanding of the local admissions rules?

    Specifically I hope to learn:

    —When/how were interviews ever part of the allowable admissions process at PS/MS 184?

    — Was the school ever allowed to admit out of district students over students from the district?

    — When the school was taking in students from out of district, how was that process managed?

    — What were the goals/results of that selection process?

    — Are there NO out-of-district students in grades Pre- K through First, as VFV states?

    — If so, then what is the rate for out-of-district students in grades 2- 8, before DoE took over the lottery process?

    It will be helpful and healing for our community to learn more about the school’s history and practices.

    It seems the more I read, the more contradictions I hear.

    I look forward to getting the story straight from folks who know more than I!

    PS: I agree w/ Pearl that Lindsey is a total pro, who operates with the highest of journalistic standards and did not deserve to be attacked for her reporting.

    I’d add that Sharon Otterman’s piece does not reflect the bias that VFV indicates.

  8. A reminder about our comment policy, via TLD’s About Page:

    Comments on The Lo-Down are moderated. While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We do not edit comments- they are either approved or not approved. A few things that will very likely result in your post being rejected: personal attacks, obscenity, commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence and SHOUTING. Also, comments that make unsubstantiated allegations about another person or an organization or business, will very likely not be approved.

    Given the emotionally charged nature of this particular discussion, we wanted to reiterate this policy.

  9. I am just one Shuang Wen parent — not elected, not a leader, just someone who has been around for a number of years, although not long enough to fully understand this very complicated situation.

    To those who ask why Shuang Wen is not answering all their questions, the answer is that few of us know enough of this morass of facts to speak authoritatively about them. The principal has been directed by the DOE to refrain from speaking about the situation. It is very, very difficult to get the information all of you are asking for.

    I can, however, begin to give you a flavor of the complexity of the issues and the intensity of the emotions, and hopefully show you why the story does not lend itself to sound-bite reporting.

    Admissions: In the early years of the school, many students were admitted from out of district. Admissions were handled by the school’s administration through 2005. (If this statement conflicts with Ms. Donlan’s understanding of the admission rules, I don’t have enough information to explain why, and I hope someone else will chime in here.) In 2005 or 2006, admissions began to be handled by the DOE’s Region 9 office, which continues to control admission to the school. At that time, the lottery practice began. My memory is that in order to participate in the 2006 lottery, one had to live in the district, but it may not have been the first year this was so. There have been exceptions since that time regarding sibling admissions for folks who lived out of district when the admission procedure changed and other such issues.

    What precisely the rules have been from one year to the next, I cannot tell you. I do know that the school is now substantially less diverse than it was when the school administration was handling admissions. That could have to do with a Supreme Court case (decided perhaps in 2007?) that essentially removed racial considerations from admissions decisions.

    At least some of Ms. Donlan’s questions can probably be answered by the DOE (if they are talking). The ones dealing with more distant history are harder to answer.

    Is the after-school program mandatory? It was once, but it is no longer. The only way to understand this issue is to understand that the school is in a period of transition. The first aspect of the transition is caused by our economic crisis. The after-school used to be free but is no longer because it would run out of money mid-year if it were still free. The Shuang Wen community has been aware since about 2005 that its after-school was facing diminishing funding. Since that time, parents and administrators have discussed, analyzed and brain-stormed about what to do. The options were to: seek more funding (obviously), charge for what was un-funded with the consequence that the program could no longer be mandatory, or shrink the program or shut it down altogether. The charging option was chosen and, notably, it was recently ratified by a petition signed by over 900 parents — a development that is fully consistent with the fact that 95% of Shuang Wen students are enrolled in the after-school despite the charge.

    The second aspect of the transition is the school’s transformation into a “dual language” program. On this subject too, my knowledge is limited. In a nutshell, the school and DOE are working to create a program that would teach all subjects in both English and Mandarin during the regular daytime hours (8:30 to 3) and would be paid for with DOE money. The dual language format already characterizes the pre-K and K levels at the school and may move up with these kids as they age through the school. Obviously, an arrangement of this kind is preferable to one that involves an after-school with a charge. But making this kind of change is difficult and will take years of trial and error. Mandarin is a difficult language, and children in Asia spend years copying the characters before they can confidently use them. And remember that the kids are going to have to be well-prepared for those ELA and math tests.

    The fact that we are in transition caused both by the economic crisis and the slow, uncertain change-over to dual language is the main reason for all the confusion about the mandatoriness issue. As in any transition, there are many details that have not yet been worked out. A handful of non-core subjects are, and always have been, taught in Chinese during the day. (I can’t give a detailed catalogue of those because I do not know them.) But they have never, nor will they ever, be a basis for requiring a family to leave the school or for a child to under-perform in a class because he/she doesn’t know the language. This has not happened yet, and it won’t. The fears about this issue (expressed in the reporting by two parents) are purely speculative. I note that Saultan Baptiste, the main spokesman for this speculative position, withdrew all three of his children from the after-school last year (2009-2010 school year) while it was still free. Seven other kids opted out that year. Thirty-six opted out this year. None of them have experienced consequences as a result of that move.

    Past references to the program being mandatory all were uttered when the program was still free, and appeared in publications or websites that were created by volunteer parents, none of whom are still at the school. Was it sloppy of us to fail to correct these issuances? Perhaps. There has never been a person whose job it was to maintain/update these sites and publications. Proficient English-speakers are in the minority of parents at this school, and our hands are full, especially now with this media feeding frenzy. But do public schools typically have paid webmasters? I can tell you ours does not. This is what it means to operate on a shoe-string budget.

    The Triad: I am grateful to VFV for opening up discussion of this group. I have heard it called a Tetrad, or Foursome, or Quad, but no one really knows how many of them there are. Nevertheless, there is strong evidence that you can count them on one hand. I will call them the Four.

    Some of Shuang Wen’s most involved parents have recently withdrawn their children from the school, citing fears of the Four. I am not at liberty to describe in this post the tactics the Four have used that have brought about these departures. The goals of the Four are unknown and probably vary from individual to individual. Their efforts are unified and organized. What is excruciating for the rest of us is that these individuals are the very people to whom NY1 and the Times gave the most air-time.

    According to my knowledge, the PA vote ratifying the money transfer that the Four challenged was 139 to 1, rather than VFV’s 152 to 2 — but we know there were two parents present who opposed it. The Four did attempt to have DYCD funding withdrawn from the after-school program as VFV said, but the economy has played a larger role, I think, in the withdrawal of major government funding. The media blitz, however, will severely harm our fund-raising and have the effect of raising the cost of the after-school for all of us.

    Consider the constellation of facts. Shuang Wen’s principal is under a gag order. The rest of us are volunteers with jobs and children to raise. The number of us who are proficient in English is very small, and we spend a lot of our time seeking funding, which will now be much harder to obtain. The school is going through a transition that is difficult to explain to people on the outside. Bias against Asian-Americans is a reality that even I did not understand until these events began developing. We do not have a PR representative or anyone experienced in managing public relations. It is also frightening, quite frankly, to speak out, knowing that the Four will be watching and listening. Perhaps they know my home address.

    My knowledge is imperfect but I hope I have supplied enough to intercept the leap to judgment.

  10. LESBob

    I did not address your question (what is the substance of the complaints and is there any merit to them?) in my earlier post but, unfortunately, I do not know the answer.

    We parents, particularly the ones who volunteer time at the school, are aware that a number of complaints have been filed against the school over the past few years. I have been told by people in-the-know about DOE practices (not by school administrators, by the way) that the content of those complaints and the identities of the people filing them are confidential matters. Admittedly, I have taken that advice at face value, and have not dug deeper.

    So I can’t shed light on them, nor can I tell you how long they have been pending. It could be that old complaints were resolved and new ones were filed, or it could be that the nine or so described by the press is a cumulative number encompassing all the complaints I have heard about over several years.

  11. Some very bias information were posted here, for one facts, this school have more parents that speaks perfect English than most other school. They have lots of lawyers and doctors who have their children attending this school.

    For the person that posted most parents in this school doesn’t speak fluent English is an false statement.

  12.  but I dont understand if 1000 parents voted to transfer the funds to SWAN or the American Cancer Society, the transfer can’t lawfully take place.  

    The PA is governed by Chancellor Regulation A660 and A610 and its bylaws are subbordinate to those regulations.   Those regulations are clear – PA money must subsidize-in-part (“supplement or complement” as stated in Regulation A610) a program of the school.  

     Subsidizing SWAN is not a program of the school. 

    Mandarin instruction is a program of the school.   The money must pay for the instructor via established contract process (competitve bid or negotiated services).   The instructional provider must be a DOE approved vendor. SWAN is not the only Mandarin instructional provider in NYC and SWAN isnt an approved vendor. 

  13.  but I dont understand if 1000 parents voted to transfer the funds to SWAN or the American Cancer Society, the transfer can’t lawfully take place.  

    The PA is governed by Chancellor Regulation A660 and A610 and its bylaws are subbordinate to those regulations.   Those regulations are clear – PA money must subsidize-in-part (“supplement or complement” as stated in Regulation A610) a program of the school.  

     Subsidizing SWAN is not a program of the school. 

    Mandarin instruction is a program of the school.   The money must pay for the instructor via established contract process (competitve bid or negotiated services).   The instructional provider must be a DOE approved vendor. SWAN is not the only Mandarin instructional provider in NYC and SWAN isnt an approved vendor. 

  14. Lisa Donlan’s questions are excellent. 

     I think Ms. Lingling interviewed parents and took only “team players”.  I think she favored Asians for their support of the Mandarin curriculum and I think the sole purpose of those intervews were to identify the team players.  

    Maybe if enough Hispanics, Whites, and African Americans comprised the school to reflect the local demographics, they may request second language choice of Mandarin or Spanish.  

    I think she coerced parents to volunteer four hours per month (what about labor laws, and what about free education if my time is worth $300 per hour that means I’ve been forced to make a donation of my time worth $12000.  And what about the tuition fee of $600 or $1000 per student required or expected from each parent.   Are you kdding me? 

    So I think Ms. Lingling bypassed the DOE process and picked and chose the parents who would be team players in what I think is her scheme.

    A full and thorough investigation is warranted.   Maybe its those very parents who keep trying to interfere with and conclude the investigations are the ones who have something to hide in what appears to be this scheme.  They’re sending letter to politicians seeking to conclusions to the investigations.  Why?  What business is it of their if the school is being investigated.  Is the City investigating the city?   What exactly is all the uproar?    It seems to me that certain parent leaders may be complicit in what appears to be a scheme at Shuang Wen.  Us taxpayers and residents demand a full and thorough investigation into this matter!!! 

  15. “the Four” referred to above by “OneShuangWenParent” are heroes!!!

    “OneShuangWenParent” seems to be one of those parent leaders crying about bullies, criminals, discrimination, harassment, etc. etc.  The diatribe of OneShuangWenParent seems to be nothing more than their propaganda.  Enough is enough. 

    I think their “lawsuit” against the “bully parents” and the estate of one of the “bully parents” is outrageous and an attempt to censor or intimidate other parents from coming forward.  I cant believe city resouces and public funds are used to defend that rubbish.

    I think I’ll write the politicians and demand a full and thorough investigation into where my tax dollars, city state and federal funds have been going.

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