Asked on Monday if he'd comment on a proposal to transplant his children's cramped Upper West Side elementary school, PS 452, sixteen blocks south to a larger campus near the NYCHA-run Amsterdam Houses, a father smiled and shook his head. "The topic's too hot," he said. Local parent and comedian Jason Jones agrees, and has warned others not to talk to the press.

But after a beat the man changed his mind, asking that his name be withheld. "They've made it really hard to oppose them," he said, referring to the contingent of PS 452 parents who have denounced the proposal. "I've heard about kids who were uninvited to playdates because their parents are in favor of the move."

Monday's meeting was at PS 191, the campus pitched as a possible new home for PS 452. But while the West 61st Street school also has a stake in the decision—it may relocate to a new campus at the nearby Riverside Center, a luxury residential high-rise—PS 452 parents overwhelmed the conversation, arguing that they had invested in the West 70s so that their children could walk to a high-performing school.

"For my wife and I who both work in the nonprofit field, we made great sacrifices to live in the neighborhood so that we could attend 452," said parent Phil Weinberg.

PS 452 was formed in 2010 to address overcrowding at the coveted Upper West Side schools PS 199 and PS 87, and is considered by many local parents to be on par with the best. But its West 77th Street campus shares facilities with two middle schools, and has no dedicated auditorium, library, cafeteria or courtyard.

The PS 452 faculty has endorsed the move, warning that staying uptown could jeopardize their art, music, and computer lab space; and the Department of Education says that moving schools could help the city serve an influx of Uptown high-rises. But PS 452 parents have countered that the city should build a new school in their neighborhood instead.

"This meeting represents a part of this district that is very toxic and getting a lot of attention," said Marilyn Barnwell, the education director at a local nonprofit preschool serving low-income families. "You don't see our parents here. They need translation and childcare. These meetings aren't accessible to them."

PS 452 is less racially and socioeconomically diverse than the rest of the city—64% of the student body is white, and only 11% of students qualify for free lunch. For comparison, black and Latino students make up 81% of PS 191, where 73% of students qualify for free lunch.

"At public schools all parents have the same choices, supposedly," Barnwell added. "But ours are false choices."

A member of the District 3 Equity in Education Task Force, Barnwell believes that the current zoning system—which relies on geography—exacerbates New York City's notorious diversity problem. Her group is pushing for 'controlled choice,' which would insure an even distribution of high and low income, special needs, and English language-learning students across all uptown schools.

"These are public schools, not private schools," said Ujju Aggarwal, a member of the task force and the local Parent Leadership Project. "You don't buy more rights as a public school parent."

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The playground at PS 191. The Amsterdam Houses are visible in the background (Emma Whitford/Gothamist).

"What's most important to me is my kids' education," said a PS 452 father, who asked that his name be withheld for professional reasons. "The people who are in charge of that are telling me that they support this idea, so I'm taking their word for it."

"Would I prefer the school to be in my basement? Sure," he added. "But the fact that it's inconvenient to me, that's not what the community should base its decisions on. I don't think where you live, or how much you pay for real estate... should impact how much of a voice you have."

But a post leaked this week from an Upper West Side coop message board suggests that some PS 452 parents are motivated to protect their property values.

"I don't have kids at PS 452, so until earlier today I was not planning to speak this evening," said Larry Shapiro, a resident of The Schwab House. He says he changed his mind when a neighbor made an "offensive posting." He read an excerpt of the post, which was also shared with Gothamist:

There is a consideration to move the school to a neighborhood (61st and Amsterdam) that has a very different demographic makeup. THIS CAN GREATLY IMPACT THE VALUE OF OUR HOMES. The great schools are part of what makes this area very desirable.

"I call on those who opposed the move to publicly disassociate themselves from this kind of rhetoric," Shapiro added, to applause.

Elizabeth Merced was one of a handful of PS 191 parents who attended Monday's meeting. A mother of five and Amsterdam Houses resident, she's in favor of her children moving to a brand new campus down the street. But she balked at the assumptions some PS 452 parents made about her neighborhood.

"Just because it's projects everybody is scared of it," she said. "These kids are very smart. They're not trying to get in trouble, they're not trying to get shot. It's just a simple fact that it's hard for us to get somewhere to live, and [the city] made apartments for us."

Such assumptions aren't new. Last year, PS 199 families squashed a proposal that would have rezoned some of them to PS 191. Some expressed concern about the Amsterdam Houses, and the school's controversial "persistently dangerous" label—one its parents and teachers have contested.

"People [at PS 452] blame it on the distance," said Kajsa Reaves, president of the PS 191 PTA. "I can't help but wonder if maybe they don't want to move [their school] down here because of the location and demographics."

"Honestly," she added, "I don't feel part of this discussion at all."

The DOE is expected to present formal proposals for school swapping and rezoning within District 3 this fall.