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Mendez Steps Up Criticism of Girls Prep Expansion Plan

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Councilmember Rosie Mendez

As we reported over the weekend, Councilmember Rosie Mendez and parents from two middle schools are stepping up their opposition to the expansion of the Girls Prep Charter School. Last month, the Department of Education announced it would allow the school to expand in its current location, on East Houston Street.  Girls Prep shares its building with two other schools, P.S. 188 and P.S. 94.

A press release emailed this morning says: “New DOE proposal for (the) Girls Prep (Middle School)… to squeeze an additional 300 students into the P.S. 188 building at the expense of District 1 students… New proposal hurts P.S. 94 and P.S. 188.” Urging parents to attend tomorrow night’s state-mandated hearing on the DOE’s plan, the release warns, “Your school may be next!”

In evaluating Girls Prep’s expansion proposal,  the DOE surveyed all District 1 middle schools, looking for “under-utilized space.”  They concluded the school could stay in its current location, eventually taking over 12 additional classrooms.  Highlighting the fact that P.S. 94 is a special needs school for kids with autism, Mendez argues the DOE’s assessment is flawed and unfair:

This plan causes a serious disruption to two schools that overwhelmingly serve low-income neighborhood youth.  The expansion of a charter school should not come at the expense of any student, but especially those who face special challenges in a District 75 school… I strongly disagree with the Department of Education’s (DOE’s) assessment that these buildings are underutilized.  I fail to see how the additional classrooms necessary for Girls Prep to expand to include a middle school could be physically accommodated in PS 188.  Nor can I support the sacrifice of educational quality and spacing needs at existing schools in order to make that happen.

The release also includes strongly worded statements from the parent leaders of both P.S. 188 and P.S. 94:

“PS 188… and Girls Prep… have developed a good relationship over the past few years. But we do not have space for another middle school with 300 students, said Yvonne Walker, PS/MS 188M Island School Co-PA President. She added, “Our school has very high numbers of special education students.  Right now, we do not have space for the Individualized Education Programs (IEP)-mandated services like Speech & Language Therapy, Counseling and Occupational Therapy.  Right now, our children eat in the Lobby. Right now, we do not have adequate gym space, and afterschool space.   It’s frustrating for us as parents.  PS/MS 188 was praised by Chancellor Klein in his Principal’s Weekly Memo as a high-needs school that not only earned an “A” on its Report Card, but has excellent arts and technology programs.  Yet, the addition of a new Middle School in this building jeopardizes the programs that led to this success.  What’s horrifying is the plan will put more people in the building than the Occupancy Certificate allows.  For all these reasons, our parents are outraged at the DOE’s plan to add a Middle School with 300 students into our building.”

Jessica Santos, PA President and School Leadership Team Member of PS 94M… said, “Our students are different but not less. Special education students deserve the same space and resources as their peers have in order to receive a proper education. We are against the new DOE plan to add 300 more Girls Prep Middle School students into our building especially at the cost of essential services and enrichment opportunities that are mandated on our children’s IEPs. These kids need the technology lab, sensory room and inclusion with general students in order to improve and strengthen their learning and social/emotional growth.”

In its Educational Impact Statement, the DOE said, “space (for Girls Prep) will be created through graduation of current students (of P.S. 94) over the next several years, thereby reducing the total number of sections from nine to five with corresponding declines in student enrollment and space need.” Girls Prep officials have said repeatedly that the DOE has an obligation to accommodate their growth plans. They have strongly criticized the DOE for “pitting parents against each other.”

Tomorrow’s hearing begins at 6pm, at P.S. 188, 442 East Houston Street. Mendez and parents are staging a protest at 430, and holding a press conference at 5pm.

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