Public advocate launches co-locations lawsuit
Public school students and parents are going to court in their battle against co-locations.Earlier this month, Community Education Council (CEC) members, PTA presidents and parents came together in Brooklyn Heights for a town hall to discuss a lawsuit filed by Advocates for Justice with the goal of terminating the Department of Educations (DOE) plans of going through with some 30 school co-locations.The co-locations were approved by the Bloomberg administration late in the then-mayors final term, but after reviewing all of them, Mayor Bill de Blasio recently gave 36 of the 45 co-locations the green light. Dissatisfied with this decision, Public Advocate Letitia Tish James has filed a lawsuit against the current mayor in order to block additional charter school co-locations.At the meeting, an eight-person panel — including James, attorney Arthur Schwartz of Advocates for Justice, CEC and PTA members — interacted with parents who shared their stories and shared their objections not only to the process of these co-locations, but also with respect to the impact that they could have on the quality of their childrens education.From the lack of special needs students services and safety issues, to an unlawful increase of classroom sizes, to lunch periods starting as early as 9:45 a.m. due to limited space, the attendees weighed in on many issues that had shaped their view on co-locations.James contends that these conditions are fueled by overpopulation in school buildings which would only increase with each co-location.Justifying their goals as a right rather than an attack, the panel kept reiterating that the lawsuit was not anti-charter schools. Its purpose is to aim for equal quality of education and change the law to empower parents, who were powerless as the citys Department of Education moved forward with co-locations they had opposed.What Im against is rushed decisions without any analysis of the metrics or the impacts on children, said James. Clearly, the process is broken and clearly what all of us want is quality education for all students and for all children and not just some. There need to be more checks and balances in the process.Another issue, according to some panel members, is the accuracy of the Blue Book, which contains the official calculations of public school utilization in New York City, and which advocates believe understate actual enrollments at city schools.Indeed, a task force has been appointed to analyze the formula used to calculate enrollment, something that Class Size Matters Executive Director Leonie Haimson, a member of the panel, thinks should have been taken into consideration before going ahead with co-locations. De Blasio promised he would reduce class size, he promised he would revise the Blue Book, he promised he would listen to the parents and community members before going forward with any of these co-locations, Haimson stressed. None of this has happened. This is why we are going ahead with the lawsuit. One possible stumbling block for the lawsuit is the deadline of the charter school lottery, according to Schwartz, who said, We may ask the court to push that deadline back. We need a court to take the time not just to hear some rhetoric from some lawyers, but to look at the facts, to hear some real stories, to see what co-locations are about, to see what this process has been about. The other side in the co-location battle has also filed a lawsuit, with Success Academy Charter Schools which was denied three of its eight planned co-locations going to court to ask that the DOEs decision with respect to those three locations be reversed.
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