Mom: Do some schools lack a librarian? NYC won't answer

Harlem mom Diana Tinsley is frustrated.

"I followed the process and the procedure of the New York Department of Education," said Tinsley, the vice president of District 5's Community Education Council in Harlem.

Last year Tinsley filed a Freedom of Information Law, or FOIL, request, with the city's Department of Education to find out which of the 16 middle and high schools in the district staffed librarians. Tinsley and the rest of the Community Education Council were concerned the city was violating state regulations that require librarians at certain schools, and that a lack of librarians could be hurting literacy levels.

Tinsley pointed to statistics that show 79 percent of students in grades 3 through 8 are reading below grade level.

"I feel that them not having the library structure is one of the components why we're getting these kinds of results with the Common Core testing," she said.

She filed the FOIL request in April 2016. Fifteen months later, she is still waiting for a response.

"Every month I get a delay letter saying they need another 30 days to get me this information," Tinsley said. "All this time has passed and they could have actually just taken the train up to Harlem and walked through the schools and got me the information that I was requesting."

In June 2016, Tinsley's request was denied because the Department claimed it required "more than a reasonable effort" to respond. Tinsley appealed and won, but she is still waiting.

"I really don't understand the delay," she said. "It reeks to me of incompetence from the top down."

We took the question to New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña.

"I'm going to be very honest, sometimes things go by the wayside and they shouldn't have been. This is one that we're working on right now," Farina said. "We expect to fulfill the FOIL request as we speak."

Fariña didn't say whether there was in fact a shortage of school librarians.

"I think librarians, in terms of vacancies, are really a school-based decision. There is a regulation. We don't have a requirement to have librarians in elementary school," Farina said. "In middle schools it often depends on the school budget -- if you have a school of 200 you may not have it but if you have a school of 1,300, chances are you are going to have a librarian."

Department of Education spokesperson Will Mantell said in a statement, "While there are challenges in identifying and hiring library media specialists in New York City and across the state, we'll continue our investments in libraries and students' reading skills."

The department is actively recruiting certified library media specialists and is investing in a universal literacy initiative, which includes funding for classroom libraries will be coming to Harlem districts before expanding citywide.