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Appeal to fight co-location at L.E.S. high school

Published: November 21, 2013

Publication: The Villager

By Sam Spokony

Opponents of a proposed co-location at a Lower East Side high school have filed an appeal with the city’s Board of Education to try to stop it.

The Department of Education proposed in August to co-locate a new high school (designated 01M203) in 200 Monroe St., currently home to University Neighborhood High School.

Although D.O.E.’s Panel for Education Policy voted in October to approve the co-location, the plan has faced strong opposition from U.N.H.S. staff and parents, as well as the District 1 Community Education Council and local politicians.

Opponents say the U.N.H.S. building lacks the space and resources to support a co-location, especially since the new high school would be a Career and Technical Education, or C.T.E., school.

C.T.E. schools combine typical academic study with workforce-skills programs, and generally require additional, specialized educational resources.

“This is not a facility that lends itself to sharing space, and it just doesn’t have the infrastructure to support two schools,” said Lisa Donlan, District 1 C.E.C. president. “We’re not opposed to the existence of the new school, but we really just don’t think this is the right co-location.”

She noted U.N.H.S. currently has no real gym, auditorium or cafeteria space. U.N.H.S. students use the school’s lobby for all those purposes. Plus, U.N.H.S. currently enrolls around 250 students — which already crowds the building’s hallways — while the new public school would add roughly 500 students to the same space.

Before a lawsuit is filed in State Supreme Court against the co-location, opponents must file an appeal with the Board of Education, D.O.E.’s governing body. If that appeal is denied, the lawsuit can proceed.

Arthurt Schwartz, a local Democratic district leader and civil rights lawyer, filed an appeal with B.O.E. on Nov. 14, seeking to stop the U.N.H.S. co-location. He said, if the appeal is denied, he would proceed with a lawsuit.

“The [U.N.H.S.] faculty, administrators and students are all united on this issue,” Schwartz said the day after filing the appeal. “It’s simply not a well-thought-out plan by D.O.E., and they clearly haven’t taken into account public opinion.”

The appeal lists Councilmember Margaret Chin, plus a parent and a student from U.N.H.S. as the petitioners.

“We filed this petition in solidarity with the students, parents and educators whose voices have been ignored by D.O.E. in its shortsighted plan to co-locate another school within U.N.H.S.,” Chin said. “This co-location would rob students of their right to an enriched and meaningful educational experience.”

Chin previously wrote to D.O.E. opposing the co-location. She also held a rally against the plan in August, and testified twice against the proposal before its approval.

D.O.E. declined to comment on the appeal, since the legal action is pending.

Schwartz also plans to file a federal lawsuit against D.O.E., on the grounds co-location would violate the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA.

According to D.O.E. statistics, under IDEA, 28 percent of U.N.H.S.’s students require special education services. Also, U.N.H.S. currently enrolls seven disabled students requiring wheelchairs. The school only has one elevator for those students, and it can only hold one wheelchair at a time.

“It’s clear the proposed co-location will make it impossible to provide the space and resources needed for disabled students,” Schwartz stated.

D.O.E.’s proposed co-location at U.N.H.S. may have initially been planned to include a charter school, sources contend.

“My understanding was that the new public high school was originally planned to be co-located with Murry Bergtraum [High School],” said Donlan. She added that she and many others familiar with the situation believe those original plans were to co-locate a Success Academy charter school with U.N.H.S.

Yet, a current D.O.E. proposal calls for co-locating a Success Academy charter school at Murry Bergtraum.

“Whatever happened between D.O.E. and Success Academy on that issue was not done transparently,” said Donlan, adding that D.O.E. officials have never fully answered her questions about that.

Some believe Success Academy was unfairly allowed to choose where to co-locate, given that D.O.E. is supposed to assign co-locations impartially.

“Eva was told D.O.E. wanted to co-locate her at U.N.H.S., and then she looked at the building and said it was inadequate,” Schwartz claimed, referring to Eva Moskowitz, Success Academy’s founder and C.E.O.

“So D.O.E. let her choose Murry Bergtraum instead,” he said, “just to make her happy.”

Asked if Success Academy originally had the option to co-locate at U.N.H.S., a D.O.E. spokesperson did not deny that. Instead, the spokesperson declined comment, again citing the pending legal action against the U.N.H.S. co-location.

A Success Academy spokesperson, asked the same question, at first denied the claim outright. But when the reporter informed her that D.O.E. had not officially denied it, the spokesperson acknowledged Success Academy may have had an opportunity to see U.N.H.S. and other possible co-location sites before D.O.E.’s formal proposal.

Success Academy representatives were “shown spaces” to see what the facilities were like, and so reps could “see why one was good or better than the others,” she said.

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