Eva Moskowitz and Success Academy Families Rally to Protect Students in High-Performing, Diverse Middle School Despite Mayor de Blasio’s Threat to Evict

Eva Moskowitz and Success Academy Families Rally to Protect Students in High-Performing, Diverse Middle School Despite Mayor de Blasio’s Threat to Evict

Seventy Fifth-Graders Are Set to Begin School at the Bed-Stuy Building, Which Has 900 Empty Seats

New York, NY — On Tuesday morning, Success Academy founder and CEO Eva Moskowitz and dozens of public charter school families called on Mayor de Blasio to drop his threat to block Success Academy fifth-graders from the Bed-Stuy classrooms they are counting on for the start of school.

In 10 weeks, 70 fifth-graders are slated to start school at public school building K25 in Bed-Stuy. However, the de Blasio administration has recently done a complete about-face, employing a bureaucratic paperwork loophole to block the school from opening. The fifth grade class intended for public school building K25 is high-performing and diverse — exactly the kind of student body that the Mayor holds up as a progressive ideal.

Officials could fix this problem with the stroke of a pen, yet they’ve refused to do so for purely political reasons.

“There is no practical reason to evict these kids,” said Eva Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy. “There is only a bureaucratic excuse — an unnecessary insistence on paperwork that City Hall is using against kids.”

Kirsten Damo, principal of SA Lafayette Middle School, questioned Mayor de Blasio’s commitment to excellence and equity: “Here, we have a school that embodies the values and demographics you say more New York City schools should strive to emulate.  So I ask you, was that empty rhetoric? Will our children be denied an education because of an arcane and arbitrary technicality, or will they have an opportunity to flourish?”

“This school has a principal and teachers,” said Jeanette Zochniak, parent of two SA Cobble Hill scholars. “My son has his laptop, his summer homework — we have a class list. We have plans. Why is the city disrupting our lives?”

Success Academy has been operating a K-4 school in building K25 for two years and wants to convert the space to serve middle school grades. That’s it. The conversion would require no additional classroom space, and the co-located school, P.S. 25, would not lose a single square foot. Blocking Success from the building K25, however, would leave the building with 900 empty seats.

In 2014, Mayor de Blasio tried to throw 194 students from a high-performing Success Academy middle school out on the street. Now, he’s trying to do it again.

How did it come to this? Earlier this year, the city Department of Education agreed to let Success open four additional middle schools across the city, including Success Academy Lafayette in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. SA Lafayette was a stopgap solution because the city claimed to need more time to find a location in District 15 for Cobble Hill and Williamsburg families, who have been waiting for a permanent middle school location for nearly four years. Out of necessity, Success proposed converting an existing elementary school (SA Bed-Stuy 3) into a middle school and transferring the elementary school students to two nearby Success schools. The city agreed to this plan.

At the same time, because the enrollment of P.S. 25 has steadily declined — recently dipping under 100 total students across seven grade levels (pre-K to 5) — the Panel for Educational Policy voted to close it. When a charter school is going to be the only occupant of a building, the PEP does not have to approve an Educational Impact Statement either to allow this occupancy or to change the scope of the occupancy. No EIS was required because Success was the only school authorized to use the K25 building.

The closure of P.S. 25 was challenged in court, and in late May, the judge entered a preliminary injunction that P.S. 25 remain open another year while the case unfolds. The DOE contends that an EIS must now be approved for Success to use the K25 building for a middle school and that it’s too late to do so for the coming school year. The DOE’s insistence that an EIS must be approved is incorrect, however.  While a judge is allowing P.S. 25 to remain open on a temporary basis while the lawsuit is pending, the PEP hasn’t approved P.S. 25’s remaining in the building. Since the PEP itself is not approving a co-location of a charter school and a district school, it doesn’t have to issue an EIS.

However, even if DOE were correct that an EIS were now required, there is a simple and easy solution. The law on co-locations specifically provides that:

In the event that the chancellor determines that …. significant change in school utilization is immediately necessary for the preservation of student health, safety or general welfare, the chancellor may temporarily…. adopt a significant change in the school’s utilization on an emergency basis.   —Education Law §2590-h(2-a)(f).

This provision is specifically intended to deal with a situation in which there is an occurrence that makes it impossible for DOE to observe the time constraints ordinarily applicable to the co-location approval process, such as the requirement than an EIS be proposed 6 months before the beginning of the school year. That is exactly the situation here. The schools chancellor can exercise his power to void this requirement.

The mayor, who spent last week lamenting the lack of diversity at the city’s specialized high schools, dismisses the fact that SA Lafayette’s student body is diverse, with sizable shares of African American, white, and Hispanic students. He undercuts his own school integration agenda by depriving these students  of a school.

As a group, SA Lafayette students are among the highest-performing in the entire city; 99% of these students passed the state math exam and 96% passed the English exam. SA Lafayette students have been served well. They have made a middle school choice that should be respected.

 

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