March 21, 2013
Compared to last week’s marathon meeting where the Panel on Education Policy voted to close 22 schools, Wednesday night’s hearing was significantly shorter (four instead of nearly eight hours). But it still featured a slew of controversial proposals to change schools.
It also featured a brief dust-up over the two newest members of the panel who have ties to charter schools. After raising questions about the discipline model at Success Academy Charter Schools, panel member Patrick Sullivan said, “I know we have an attorney for the network joining us.” Sullivan, who was appointed by the Manhattan borough president, frequently votes against the mayor’s proposals.
“I’m not on this panel to represented Success or because I’ve done pro-bono legal work for Success,” said the attorney, David Brown. Brown recused himself from a vote about a proposal to co-locate a Success Academy middle school with four district schools in Harlem. The proposal passed.
Two other co-location proposals drew most of the crowd in the ornate auditorium at Brooklyn Technical High School.
One was a proposal to open an elementary charter school, the New American Academy Charter School, on the Tilden campus in Brooklyn, where three high schools are currently located. Students, teachers, and parents protested the plan to panel members before staging a walkout an hour and a half into the meeting.
Dorothy Stanislaw, a senior at Kurt Hahn Expeditionary Learning School, one of the high schools on the Tilden Campus, told the panel that less space for her school could lead to less one-on-one attention for students. “I’m going to college. I’m already on that path,” she said. “Don’t put my friends’ educations at risk.”
During the panel discussion after public comment, Department of Education Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg said the campus would be at “maximum 70 percent capacity” with a new elementary school. He also said housing an elementary school with high schools was an arrangement the city had implemented successfully in other locations.
Several parents and PEP members raised questions about whether having elementary schoolers, who do not have to walk through metal detectors before entering the building, would harm efforts to keep guns out of the high schools on campus.
Monique Waterman, a spokeswoman for City Councilman Jumaane Williams, said the councilman “will take this to the streets and to the courts.” Eric Waterman, Kurt Hahn’s parent coordinator, said Tilden Campus parents and students plan to sue the Department of Education for not giving notice about the co-location plans in languages other than English, for compromising student safety, and for reallocating space currently used to educate students with special needs. Advocates for Justice, a law firm that has filed suit against several other co-location plans, will file the suit by March 30, Waterman said.
After Tilden students walked out, debate turned to a proposal to co-locate a new charter school, East Harlem Scholars Academy Charter School II, on a campus where an existing school, Central Park East I, was denied space to expand into a middle school.
“This is a familiar story,” Sullivan said after public comments. “When space does materialize, it goes to a charter school.”
As usual, all seventeen proposals passed. The panel, which is dominated by mayoral appointees, has never rejected a city proposal.