Hundreds of residents joined local politicians on Saturday to protest a proposed school rezoning they say would unnecessarily divide an Upper West Side community that has sent its children to the same elementary school for half a century.

Residents of Lincoln Towers, a community of eight buildings with roughly 9,000 inhabitants, demanded the NYC Department of Education abandon proposals to send students from two buildings, 165 and 185 West End Avenue, eight blocks away to PS 191 on West 61st Street, which had previously been deemed “persistently dangerous” by the state’s education department in 2015 (the school was later removed from the list).

The entire Lincoln Towers complex currently falls within the catchment area of PS 199, which is a block away on West 70th Street, and was recognized with a Blue Ribbon Award from the federal government in 2013 as one of the nation’s top schools. The issue has upset residents so much that one man from Lincoln Towers was nearly thrown out of a recent meeting.

While current students from 165 and 185 WEA will remain at PS 199, the proposals will affect new kindergartners in 2017, as part of a continuous attempt to address overcrowding at PS 199 (the DOE dropped one unpopular rezoning plan last year). Speakers at the rally, who included Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal, State Senator Brad Hoylman and a representative from Rep. Jerry Nadler's office, said the combined number of new students from 165 and 185 West End Avenue is just six per year (DOE director of planning Sarah Turchin estimated the number at ten students in July). That number is not nearly large enough to justify dividing a community, according to protestors, who chanted “Community yes! Gerrymander no!” and “Makes no sense!” The demonstrators gathered in front of 165 and 185, just a few hundred feet from the proposed border, which runs through a Lincoln Tower playground behind the buildings.

“This is a gerrymander of ludicrous proportions. Whoever came up with these lines should be given an F,” said Sen. Hoylman. “Why would you draw a line through a playground?”

2016_09_ps1992a.jpg
185 West End Avenue resident Elyse Reilly addresses the demonstration while holding her three-month-old son Hudson. Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal (L) and State Senator Brad Hoylman (R) look on. (Josh Keefe/Gothamist)

The DOE has unveiled two possible rezoning proposals for the Upper West Side, and plans on releasing a third at a meeting on Wednesday, September 28th. Both scenarios place 165 and 185 West End Avenue in the PS 191 catchment area, apart from the rest of the towers, while moving the school to a new building. Scenario A would open a new school in the current PS 191 building, while Scenario B would move PS 452, currently on 77th Street, 16 blocks south. The two plans would also shrink the PS 199 catchment area and increase the number of students at the school eligible for free lunch from seven percent to between 15 and 25 percent, according to the DOE.

Speakers at the rally said they agreed with the goals of lowering and diversifying enrollment in PS 199, which is currently at 140 percent capacity. But they argued that residents of the 165 and 185 buildings should not be removed from the school while future luxury developments, including 200 Amsterdam, which will be the tallest building on the Upper West Side when completed, are staying in the zone.

“The proposal is a strangely shaped T that appears heavily gerrymandered so as to add six full blocks and numerous super luxury buildings not currently within the zone,” said Elyse Reilly, 33, a Lincoln Towers resident and mother of a three-month-old son who will attend PS 191 under the DOE proposals. “It’s mysterious that our buildings would be carved out when new developments are in, including one which has not even been built yet.”

The DOE will select a plan for the rezoning in November, ending a contentious year-long rezoning process that Assemblymember Rosenthal called “unnecessarily confrontational and opaque.”

“We have yet to see from the DOE analytics that predict where the new kindergartners are coming from,” Rosenthal said. “Try to get an answer out of them. It’s very difficult.”

Residents of Lincoln Towers have been sending their children to PS 199 since the development was completed in 1964 as part of Robert Moses’s Lincoln Square Urban Renewal Project. First opened in 1963, PS 199 became an award-winning elementary school because of the efforts of the Lincoln Towers community, said Rochelle Shereff, a retired teacher who has lived in Lincoln Towers for 48 years.

2016_09_ps199.jpg
PS 199 and the Lincoln Towers. (Josh Keefe/Gothamist)

“This is a community, it’s been like this and we want to keep it that way,” Shereff said, adding the rezoning “would be terrible.”

“I think it’s foolish. None of us understand why they are doing this,” Shereff added.

While residents on Saturday assembled to demand the DOE keep together what they described as a uniquely tight-knit New York community, they also expressed frustration with the DOE’s handling of PS 191.

“That school has problems and it should have been fixed a long time ago. I feel bad for the people who have been going there,” said Emily Ramsay, a resident of 165 West End Avenue and the mother of a PS 199 graduate and current fourth grader at the school. “It’s not right, the DOE should fix problems, and they haven’t been.”

The Community Education Council 3 meeting of the zoning committee is Wednesday, September 28th, at 6:30 p.m., in the auditorium of PS 166 (132 West 89th Street).