Universal Pre-K Program on 84th Street Closes Suddenly, Stranding Dozens of 4-Year-Olds (and Their Parents)


The door to the school, which was located in the basement of a church.

By Carol Tannenhauser

A local Universal Pre-K (UPK) program closed literally overnight last week, leaving 26 families with four-year-olds scrambling to find new spots for their children.

Finger Painted Hands (FPH), located inside the Church of St. Matthew and St. Timothy at 26 West 84th Street, “ceased operations” last Thursday afternoon, after notifying parents the evening before and staff that morning. The school is not affiliated with the church, and the rector told us that she was not notified of the closure and left a message for the school that has not been returned.

Tristin Wildstein, one of the parents, described the events in an email to WSR.

“At 6 PM on Wednesday, February 27th, parents from the UPK Finger Painted Hands were called into school for an emergency meeting,” Wildstein wrote. “We were told by Amanda Daluz, the school’s owner and director, that she had decided to shutter the program and that the next day, Thursday, February 28th, would be the final day of operation.”

WSR made several attempts to reach Daluz, who answered the phone once, saying, “This is a very difficult day,” and hanging up. She did not return subsequent messages left on voicemail. Teachers removing their belongings declined to speak with us.

Wildstein wrote of a school year “wrought with drama,” including a near-closure in November and complaints from Daluz that the city wasn’t sending funds to pay teachers. Afterwards, parents went to Council Member Helen Rosenthal’s office to ask for help getting things sorted out, Wildstein said.

Other parents have emailed WSR complaining about FPH. Vincent Terrasi wrote that “the administrator ran the school into the ground… I can’t believe the City let this school fail.”

An official from the Department of Education (DOE) responded in an email that “the DOE takes every action possible to support sites and families and prevent site closures mid-year. The DOE provided this site with additional monetary, operational, and instructional support. Finger Painted Hands made the decision to close with fewer than 24 hours’ notice.

“We’ve reached out to every impacted family with other Pre-K options and connected 15 families to programs with available seats,” the official continued. “We’ll ensure every family is connected with a high-quality Pre-K seat that meets their child’s needs.”

Councilmember Helen Rosenthal is also involved. “We are in continuous contact with the Department of Education,” emailed Sarah Crean, her communications director, “making sure the DOE has spoken with all affected families, and is finding suitable alternatives as quickly as possible.”

Still, some parents said they expected people would be left scrambling.

“Many will have their kids at work with them,” one mother said.

The following letter was sent to FPH parents by Amanda Daluz on the day before Finger Painted Hands closed:

Dear FPH Families,

It is with a heavy heart that after nearly a decade of serving the upper west side, Finger Painted Hands can no longer serve the community and will be ceasing operations of all of our programs as of 3:00pm Thursday, February 28th.

We understand that this is very upsetting and confusing to our students and families but it is what is needed to be done. We will have a full day of classes on Thursday so that our students and faculty can have closure and we can return all items to the families.

I want to take this opportunity to both thank our families for their faithful and ongoing support and to state that this action we have needed to take is not what I created this program and corporation to do.

This is the hardest email I have ever had to write.

The DOE’s Outreach Program contact number is 212 637-8000 to help the students and families transition to a new school.

Sincerely,

Amanda Daluz
Finger Painted Hands

We will continue to follow this story.

NEWS, OPEN/CLOSED, SCHOOLS | 16 comments | permalink
    1. Pilar says:

      As one of the parents impacted by this closer and that has not been contacted by the DOE outreach team, it’s a shame that the system we intrust our children could not find a solution to prevent this from happening.

      There is tons of blame to go around but at the end of it all 26 4 year olds will not finish the school year with their friends.

    2. Jay says:

      Shameful when Children have to be affected by decisions Adults are mismanaging..
      I’m sorry for families affected by this but truly believe it’s a blessing in disguise FPH was rotten from the core and hopefully these kids are placed in a safer& stable environment.

    3. Wilfred Jones says:

      The article never states an actual reason that the school was closed. What is strange is where is the money? The school is clearly being funded by the DOE, who seems shocked it is closing. So where is the rest of the money for the balance of the year?

      Sounds like the owner of this school needs to be investigated by the DOE or others. Worst case it sounds like she is a crook – best case she sounds incompetent and cruel.

    4. TRH says:

      The school is on 83rd next to the fire department between Amsterdam/Columbus. The picture of the church above is on 84th by CPW

      • West Sider says:

        The school’s former location was on 83rd, the newer one was in the church basement.

    5. Leon says:

      This is unbelievable. If Universal pre-k is going to happen, it has to happen with no breakdowns like this. I have generally heard rave reviews of UPK as a whole, so I am very saddened to hear about this problem. I think there is a huge difference between the school-based programs and one-off programs like these, but unfortunately there is very limited space in school-based programs – most of the ones on the UWS only take siblings since their spaces fill up so quickly.

      Best wishes to the families impacted by this.

      • Christine Pacheco says:

        As a former teacher I need everyone to know that yes DOE should be held accountable but the real matter lies in the hands of that woman. She has been doing this for years and they finally put an end to it. There’s ALOT THAT PEOPLE DO NOT KNOW!!

        • J.P. says:

          omg yes!!!! Amanda is one of the most irresponsible people i have ever met in my life…. The fact that she was the DIRECTOR for this school…. it scares me… what we do not know!

    6. Chris says:

      I’m also one of the parents affected by the closure. I was most certainly NOT proactively contacted by the DOE. I did attempt (with considerable difficulty) to find someone at the DOE that could assist in potentially finding a replacement pre-K spot. I was eventually told that the DOE does not keep an updated list of pre-K openings and that I would need to ramdomly start calling schools on my own to find a possible location for my 4-year old son.

      Some of the parents from the school have banded together in an attempt to self-fund the program through year-end. This would come at considerable cost, but would at least keep our kids together and also help the out-of-work teachers as well as the church that will soon be missing a rent check from Ms. Daluz.

      While Ms. Daluz is clearly incompetent and her behavior has been generally duplicitous in her dealings the parents, the DOE should be held to a higher degree of obligation in terms of fixing this situation.

      • Juan says:

        Perhaps our neighbors who so passionately led a GoFundMe effort to save a for-profit bookstore can lead a similar effort to help out the kids in this school and keep it open through the end of the year, personally, the education of four year olds is a much better use of resources than a for-profit entity, but others can spend their money as they wish.

    7. Judith Norell says:

      So sad.

    8. Elizabeth says:

      I feel for the children and families but this school had problems since November. There was much more going on behind parents backs and the director did nothing about it. I’m glad the school is no longer in operation. These kids will be safer and will learn more outside of this toxic environment.

    9. J.P. says:

      This school was a HOT mess!! I enrolled my son for their 3’s program for 2 weeks and took him out ASAP after realizing how unorganized the director was… GOOD RIDDANCE!! So sad for the families affected though…

    10. Sandra says:

      This school had a lot of issues because it was run and owned by an individual who had no experience or knowledge about early childhood education. The school was a business for her as she callously terminated a teacher who was passionate about her job and loved the children and their families without considering the impact on the children and their families. She did not care about the no monies were spent to purchase materials or furniture since September. Amanda was never on the premises the office manager wife who was not qualified wanted to be in charge. Toddlers were in a classroom with UPK children. Teachers had to move over fifteen pieces of furniture every day. There are serious issues with these community based and NYCEEC programs that Mayor De Blasio is allowing to acquire contracts for Pre-K for All. It is unfair for a Professionally certified teacher to be subjected to these conditions to struggle to get a good job in the DOE after spending thousands of dollars to acquire their master’s programs without a union, health benefits, pension plan. Mayor De Blasio boast about the success his pre-k for all program stating “teachers in community-based and NYCEEC program receive the same professional development as DOE teachers but not the same salaries!” and failing to address the fact that they don’t receive the same benefits. This disparity has to end it is unfair and unjust!!
      I hope that something more comes out of this article about Finger Painted Hands because it is the ideal example of the great disparity that exists between DOE and CB, NYCEEC programs. It is time Mayor De Blasio is held accountable!!