LES Parents File Complaint Against Dept. of Education

The controversy over the expansion of the Girls Prep Charter School lives on.  This morning, parents from the Lower East Side announced they have filed a formal complaint with New York State’s education commissioner. In a news conference on the steps of City Hall a short time ago, they argued the DOE violated state law by failing to outline how other district schools would be impacted and by disregarding required procedures — and they insisted the decision must be annulled.

Last month, the Panel for Educational Policy ruled Girls Prep could expand in a building it shares with P.S. 188 and P.S. 94 on East Houston Street. They discounted strong opposition from parents with kids in those other schools, who said Girls Prep was being allowed to grow at their expense.

But, in today’s complaint, the parents are making new allegations. They argue the DOE failed to specifically advise the community of its plan to phase out P.S. 94’s 4th and 5th grades – and to seek input about that decision. According to the documents filed with the state, the policy panel was only asked to decide about the Girls Prep expansion — not the contraction of P.S. 94.  Specifically, their petition notes, “Any proposed significant change in school utilization, such as grade configuration or relocation, must be approved by the PEP (Panel on Educational Policy.”  Since this did not occur, they said, the DOE failed to comply with “state mandated procedures,” and in so doing, invalidated their decision.

On Friday, a judge issued a ruling in a seemingly unrelated matter, that the LES parents believe could bolster their new challenge. State Supreme Court Justice Joan Lobis blocked the closing of 19 high schools, saying the DOE violated a new law requiring “meaningful community involvement.”

The complaint, filed with the help of Advocates for Children of New York, alleges “these same violations have occurred in the DOE’s decisions in the co-location of charter schools.”   While the allegations might be similar, it’s important to note that today’s filing is not a lawsuit.  Last week’s court ruling will not necessarily be a factor in the education commissioner’s decision whether to rule in favor of the Lower East Side parents. However, it is possible education advocates will take the additional step of filing a new lawsuit against the DOE over the “co-location” issue.

At today’s news conference, parents said P.S. 94, said it’s wrong to target P.S. 94, a school for kids with autism. Girls Prep’s Middle School is taking over four classrooms from P.S. 94, effectively forcing special needs students out of District 1. The complaint also said P.S. 188 is already being squeezed and would lose more rooms for art, athletics and special education if the expansion plan goes forward.

At today’s event, the parents were joined by other parents from schools in Harlem and Brooklyn facing similar situations. During two public hearings on the LES, charter school and traditional public school parents were often pitted against each other.  Today, Mariama Sanoh of the New York Charter School Association took part in the news conference, saying it’s time for that to stop. “It’s the DOE, she said, “failing our children.”

In the past, DOE officials have argued that the plan would not effect either P.S. 188 or current P.S 194 students. Last week, Chanellor Joel Klein suggested the lawsuit (over school closings) was simply a desperate attempt by the United Federation of Teachers to save jobs.

This morning, Councilmember Robert Jackson (chair of the Education Committee) had a message for the DOE: “You’ve been told over and over again parents are full partners. You’re stubborn like a mule… Back off the Lower East Side and East Harlem. Sit down with these parents.”  Councilmember Rosie Mendez, whose district includes the impacted schools, said, “This plan is wrong and it must be stopped. The parents here are my heroes.” Here’s Mendez’s complete statement: