As expected, the city Department of Education’s (DOE) Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) voted to approve another 20 co-locations of existing and new charter schools into buildings that already house one, two or even three schools.
The vote took place on October 30 and brought hundreds of parents, teachers and students from schools across the five boroughs together in loud opposition to the planned co-locations, which they almost unanimously described as damaging to educational quality.
Among those protesting were groups from I.S. 281 Joseph Cavallaro and John Dewey High School. Cavallaro JHS faces a permanent co-location with grades K-4 from Coney Island Prep (CIP) public charter school, while Dewey would share space with a new district high school, to open in September 2014.
“My son is in seventh grade and I have a daughter in first grade. I wouldn’t want her to follow in her brother’s footsteps [if this happens],” said I.S. 281 PTA President Josephine Shayeef.
“They could lose the media room, science lab, music room, old-fashioned printing room, journalism room. . .all would be lost,” said Shayeef, who also noted that the building, 8787 24th Avenue, is utilized seven days a week with after school and community programs, as well.
“If they could be in our school for just one day, they would see this is not right,” added teacher and UFT Chapter Leader Theresa Cardazone. “It’s a fire hazard and safety issue. The kids keep asking, why they can’t vote. The kids have no voice.”
Asked what they make of the DOE’s contention that I.S. 281 is only 80 percent utilized, teacher Nobuta Medress said that the inspectors got those numbers “by coming during lunch period in May 2013. Of course the classrooms were empty; students were in the cafeteria.”
Heather Fiorica, president of Community Education Council District 21, also testified.
“Dewey—they weren’t in last year’s handbook for high schools,” so students didn’t even know they could apply,” Fiorica exclaimed.
“Our community was destroyed by [Superstorm] Sandy and now you’re trying to hurt us again,” declared Fiorica. “[CIP] says ‘we want to love you, be part of District 21,’ but guess what? They were out of [the October 21 public hearing] once it was our turn to speak.”
However, CIP Founder and Principal Jacob Mnookin insisted that I.S. 281 parents had already testified and that CIP parents only left because “it was a school night” and the meeting was running long.
“We’ve been serving the community of Coney Island for 25 years and are excited about the prospect of serving the elementary grades,” said Mnookin, who added that CIP doesn’t have the money to build its own building and said its co-location experience at I.S. 303 has been “wonderful.”
CIP currently houses its students in two separate buildings: one as a permanent co-location with I.S. 303 and Rachel Carson High School, and one in the former St. Simon-St. Jude building. I.S. 281 would be its third location.
Bensonhurst resident and CIP parent Joseph Herrera testified that charter “students deserve access to free public school space [because] they’re public school students.
“I hear parents [complain that] co-location means sharing, but the educational impact of no co-location means a [charter] school won’t exist,” said Herrera.
Now, the fate of the traditional-public and charter schools may lie in the hands of the NYC’s next mayor.
“I hope Bill de Blasio [wins] because he’s against charter schools,” said Shayeef, referencing de Blasio’s oft-repeated opposition to rent-free co-locations. “If you have money, put it together and focus on getting a building [for your students].”
“We’re counting on de Blasio issuing a moratorium, on the UFT lawsuit [already in place], and on the fact that the DOE lied about Dewey being underutilized,” concurred veteran Dewey HS teacher and UFT delegate Michael Solo. “We have 2,000 students, not 1,600. We were set up to fail by the DOE.”
Herrera disagreed. “A moratorium on co-locations and charging rent won’t balance it out,” he said. “Instead, it will create inequity. Equality by charging rent for underprivileged [families] isn’t it. Any responsible elected official would talk about building schools, not a moratorium.”