Parents at pricey NYC prep school force administrators to offer classroom learning

Parents at pricey NYC prep school force administrators to offer classroom learning

October 6, 2020

Parents shelling out big bucks for one of Manhattan’s toniest private schools successfully forced administrators to offer classroom instruction this academic year, sources told The Post.

The Spence School, which counts Gwyneth Paltrow, Georgina Bloomberg, and Kerry Washington as graduates, initially opted for fully-remote classes in light of coronavirus concerns.

Several influential families at the all-girls Upper East Side school had left the city due to COVID-19 and wanted to continue with remote learning to extend their stays in the Hamptons and other chic locales, insiders said.

But some other Spence families resisted the on-line learning decision, arguing that other top private schools were opening and that their $54,650 in tuition should provide classroom learning.

“There are people at this school who want to prioritize their own personal schedules and preferences over the welfare of the students overall,” a parent told The Post.

Sources said they reached out to administrators in mid-September to question the arrangement and to demand the resumption of in-person classes.

But school officials responded with a “patronizing” letter that failed to address their arguments, they said.

The faction then escalated the matter and launched a petition. School sources said that the campaign eventually forced principal Ellanor Brizendine to reverse course and resume classroom learning later this month.

“The vast majority of parents have opted for in person learning and feel that, at present, there is no reason not to let our daughters return to school full time,” read a statement accompanying a September 29 petition signed by 150 families.

They also accused Spence administrators of having a dismissive attitude towards parent engagement.

“Furthermore our peer schools have solicited frequent input from their respective parent bodies, with regard to this extremely important matter, in order to help form their planning,” the statement read.  “It is discouraging that Spence has not.”

The petition argued that children were suffering both educationally and emotionally during the prolonged absence from school.

“A fraction of 1% is the lowest risk we are to face, as a school community, without a vaccine,” their petition stated. “Other schools have followed the guidance and recognized that this is a level of risk that can be managed intelligently.  As parents, we accept this risk.”

In a statement to The Post, Brizendine denied she bowed to parental pressure and only pivoted to in-person learning due to a tangible decrease in the coronavirus threat.

“Our initial decision was to begin the year with remote learning,” she said. “Following September data in which local infection rates remained low, we determined that in-person learning could resume for all divisions in the month of October. We always appreciate the perspective of our school community as we navigate these extraordinarily challenging times.”

Spence has been roiled by a series of charged controversies in recent years.

In a 2017 letter to school officials, hedge fund titan John Paulson expressed alarm that Spence’s curriculum had become pervaded by “anti-white indoctrination.”

The school pushed back on the claim.

“Spence has a long-standing commitment to curriculum that promotes diverse perspectives and faces difficult truths,” officials said. “We have never wavered in this commitment, which is even more critical in this national reckoning over race and social justice,” the school responded at the time.

In 2019, the parents of a Spence student claimed she was wrongly cast as a racist by classmates over an Instagram post and that the school facilitated her vilification with a series of student assemblies on the matter.

The girl’s parents, Michel and Adam Parker, are suing Spence and the case is ongoing.

Spence has denied any wrongdoing in the case and the school’s attorney argued that administrators have the discretion to mete out punishment as they see fit.

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