Girls Prep Expansion Plan Approved by DOE Panel

Protesting the expansion plan, February 12th.

The Girls Prep Charter School has won a hard-fought battle to expand its middle school on the Lower East Side. Last night, the Department of Education’s policy panel voted to approve the expansion plans of 13 charter schools across the city, including Girls Prep.  The decision means the school will now be able to take over 12 additional classrooms in a building it shares with P.S. 188 and P.S. 94 on East Houston Street. The proposals triggered months of controversy, pitting parents from the neighborhood’s traditional public schools against the parents of Girls Prep students.

There was one dissenting voice last night. According to the web site, DNA Info, Manhattan panel member Patrick Sullivan opposed the Girls Prep plan (as well as a proposal from Harlem Success Academy):

Although he said parent testimony was convincing, the formal report submitted to the panel reviewing the educational success of charter schools did not make a strong case. “I don’t see that these charter schools have superior performance,” he said.

Charter school parents came out in force for the meeting. The hearing room was filled beyond capacity, leaving more than 100 people out in the cold, unable to take part in the proceedings. Some attendees accused the DOE of unfairly packing the auditorium with pro-charter parents:

“The charter school parents who came here tonight were bussed in, they were given dinner, they were told to get on the bus because that’s what Klein instructed them to do,” said one attendee. “This is a total sham to have this room packed with charter school parents, little children getting up and giving testimony, you know those children didn’t write that testimony.

But DOE Chancellor Joel Klein – who has championed charter schools – made his position clear:

I can understand why any school moving in would like more space, that makes sense, but what’s particularly interesting tonight Mr. chairman is that all of a sudden, when charter schools are involved in sharing space there’s been a big political push back and we should see it for what it is.

Many parents spoke out against the DOE for failing to provide adequate space for existing and new schools and pitting parents against each other. Under the Girls Prep plan, P.S. 94 (a special needs school) will reduce its admissions and, eventually, move to a new location outside of the district. In spite of their concerns, administrators from all three schools have pledged to work together, in order to make the best of a bad situation.

Two emotional public hearings were held on the Lower East Side to gather community feedback about the proposal. Parent advocates have argued the hearings – mandated by state law – have no impact on the DOE’s decision-making. They predicted last night’s outcome by the panel, which is controlled by the mayor.