Split Decision In Charter School Space Spat

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The state education department handed city school officials a mixed verdict on their plans to expand two charter schools that share space with public schools.

In decisions handed down Monday, New York State Education Commissioner David Steiner blocked the city’s plan to expand Girls’ Preparatory Charter School in the building it shares with Public School 94 and Public School 188 in the East Village. But Steiner declined to intervene in the city proposal to expand the PAVE Academy Charter School within the Public School 15 building in Red Hook.

Both cases were brought by Advocates for Children, a nonprofit group, on behalf of parents at both schools.

As City Limits reported in June, the growing number of charter schools is leading to disputes over space as the city Department of Education places charters in existing public school buildings.

Girls’ Prep’s expansion was going to force fourth and fifth grade classes at P.S. 94, a school with multiple locations that serves children with disabilities, from the P.S. 188 building to another.

PAVE Academy was supposed to end its tenancy at P.S. 15, but since it has been not secured a private space, DOE plans to let PAVE stay at P.S. 15 for three more years. As PAVE expands each year, it will take space; P.S. 15 will yield it.

Steiner’s decisions in both cases revolved around whether the DOE had complied with state Education Law governing school closings and relocations, so his focus was on questions of procedure more than educational impact.

In the case of PAVE Academy, Steiner found that the city had met its obligations to inform the public about the proposed change and its impact. On the merits of the policy, Steiner said, the challengers didn’t supply enough evidence to doubt the DOE’s claims that the building can accommodate both schools.

But on the Girls’ Preparatory case, Steiner wrote that the DOE had failed to provide “any information relating to where PS 94 students who would otherwise have attended class at M188 would be served, or the ability of those alternative locations or schools to accommodate them.”

The decision bars the DOE from moving ahead with the Girl’s Prep plan until it conducts a new public review process.

DOE spokesman Jack Zorin-Rosenfeld told City Limits: “We are reviewing the decision and our options,” on the Girls’ Prep case.

Advocates for Children said, “The decisions reaffirmed that the DOE must follow state law and cannot move or change space utilization for any schools – including those that serve children with the most severe disabilities – without full disclosure to affected communities and opportunity for public comment.”

In a statement, Advocates for Children quoted John Battis, one of the parents who challenged the proposal as saying, “I’m disappointed with the Commissioner’s interpretation of the law. I think that the impact of the co-location on the students at P.S. 15 has not been fully disclosed.”

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