uccess Academy President Eva Moskowitz. Photo courtesy Success Academy Charter Schools



Despite Legal Obligation, City Refuses to Revise the Unequal and Outdated Allocation of Space Among Harlem West Middle School and the Two Other Schools in Same Building


At Scale, Harlem West Will Have 14 More Students Per Room than One of its Co-Located Schools


Success Academy announced on Monday that it is taking legal action against the New York City Department of Education for its failure to provide students at Success Academy Harlem West Middle School with equitable space. In an appeal filed with New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, Success Academy asks the Department of Education to enforce its legal requirement to equitably allocate space based on enrollment. Without this intervention, Harlem West will continue to be forced to squeeze two or even three times as many children into every classroom than the two other schools in building M088.

“We have pursued every possible avenue to avoid litigation,” said Eva Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Success Academy. “For months and months, we worked to get a resolution. We had an agreement and then the mayor reneged on his promise.”

The inequity dates back to 2010, when the DOE first divided space in the building among the three schools. At the time, the DOE projected in its Building Utilization Plan that each of the other two schools’ enrollment would increase, and ultimately enroll about 160 more kids than Harlem West. So the DOE gave those schools more space. The plan, which is a legally binding document, also stated that the city would reallocate space in the building if this projected increase didn’t occur.

Since 2010, however, enrollment at the two other schools has dramatically decreased. These two schools were projected to enroll 1,100 students, but today they serve fewer than 600. In the last four years alone, enrollment at the two schools has dropped by 345 students. Meanwhile, Harlem West has grown from 210 students to more than 300, and will serve 455 students at scale.

In January, after months of parents protesting, writing letters, and phoning the mayor, the de Blasio administration finally agreed to provide additional rooms to Harlem West, as part of an overall agreement to ensure an appropriate, reasonably located seat for all Success Academy middle schoolers next year. Then two weeks ago, City Hall abruptly reneged on its agreement and submitted a proposed Building Utilization Plan that allocated even less space to Harlem West and violated the legal requirement to allocate space based on enrollment.

The DOE is required by state law to comply with its Building Utilization Plans — which in this case means allocating space among these three schools equitably, based on their enrollments. This has not yet happened despite the law, and despite repeated inquiries from Success Academy and thousands of calls and letters from concerned parents.

Harlem West Principal Khari Shabazz . Photo courtesy Success Academy Charter Schools

As Monday’s legal filing demonstrates, Harlem West is entitled to 11 more rooms in the building.  In February, the Department of Education issued a new proposal that only exacerbates the space inequity. The proposal removes three classrooms from Wadleigh,  which is closing three grades. Instead of giving any of those rooms to Harlem West to educate more children, the DOE plans to use them for an administrative office that is already operating just blocks away.

This allocation would mean that when Harlem West is fully enrolled, one of the schools would have nearly twice as much space for every child and the other would have nearly three times as much space. Harlem West would have to fit more than 14 more kids into every room than Wadleigh accommodates in the same building.

On Monday, Success Academy Harlem West parents and staff gathered outside the school building and demanded fair and legal treatment from the Department of Education.

“All Harlem kids should be treated equally,” said Harlem West Principal Khari Shabazz. “The City is discriminating against our kids.”

“You don’t have to be a Harlem West fifth grader to do the math,” said Jessica Pizarro, whose son Jaylen attends Harlem West. “There are three schools in this building and the space should be allocated according to how many students they have and realistic projections for future enrollment.”

Harlem West is one of the top middle schools in New York City, with 91% of scholars passing the state math test and 75% passing the state ELA test (in comparison, 19% of students of color passed the math exam citywide and 30% passed ELA). The school is the latest example of an ongoing phenomenon in which the Department of Education refuses to give Success Academy children space to learn in co-located buildings, even if there are hundreds of seats available in increasingly underutilized district schools.

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