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Panel approves charter school co-locations despite pleas from parents, teachers, students

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The city is breaking the highest law in the land by forcing a Mill Basin public school to share its space with a privately run institution, claim parent and politicians who rallied at a city hearing on the plan Tuesday night.

The panel for Education Policy voted in favor of “co-locating” a Success Academy elementary charter school within Mill Basin’s Roy H. Mann middle school despite the protests of hundreds of parents, students, teachers, and a few elected officials — with the presumptive Public Advocate calling the city’s plan unconstitutional.

“You are setting up a system that is separate and unequal,” said Councilwoman Letitia James (D–Fort Greene), who is running this year for Public Advocate, referring to the landmark Supreme Court case Brown vs. Board of Education that outlawed segregation.

Echoing the concerns of a steady stream of speakers opposing the plan, James argued that locating the charter schools with public schools creates separate and unequal opportunities for students.

“When some children have art and others do not, that’s separate but unequal. When some have music … when some have tech … when you set up two separate exits … when you treat special needs children differently, discipline and expel them … that’s separate but unequal,” she told the panel, most of who were appointed to their seats by the mayor.

Michael Benjamin, a representative for Sen. John Sampson and president of the Bergen Beach Civic Association, spoke to the high quality of Mill Basin’s existing elementary schools and the negative affect that the additional elementary charter school would create.

“We already have two excellent elementary schools,” said Benjamin. “Anything that undermines them undermines the community.”

Teacher Alan Abrams had a petition with 1,978 signatures opposing the charter school proposal, and addressed the mayor’s schools chancellor Dennis Walcott, saying that this was his opportunity to build up his resume for when he’s looking for a new job after the Bloomberg administration.

“Chancellor Walcott, we know you’re unemployed as of Jan. 1, 2014,” Abrams said. “We ask that for your resume, you include that ‘I saved IS 78.’ ”

Testimony was limited to two-minutes per person and almost unanimously called on the panel to vote down the proposal — only one woman spoke in favor of charter school co-location. Amid the speakers’ impassioned pleas, the assembled crowd of parents, teachers, and education advocates joined in chants of, “you’re going to jail,” and “what comes around goes around.”

More than two dozen police officers were present to provide security, presumably for the Panel for Educational Policy, which was not lost on the speakers.

“Whenever you speak in regards to education policy, the NYPD should not be present,” said James.

“I know that you’re not doing the right thing” said Councilman Lew Fidler (D–Canarsie). “I plead with you, that here in the final meetings of this panel you show some independence, you show some cojones, and do the right thing.”

But in the end, there was no stopping the Panel for Education Policy from approving the plan. The vote passed, despite everything, 10–3.

The panel also approved an equally controversial plan to co-locate another Success Academy elementary school at Seth Low middle school in Besnsonhurst.

“It’s corrupt, it’s just corrupt,” said Cynthia Prevete, vice president of the School District 22 Parent-Teacher Association. “It’s very discouraging to know that they’re just puppets up there raising their hands for every vote, right down the line.”

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4514.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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