Feature stories

Victims of co-locations

District schools make educational sacrifices as charters move in

PS 149 in Harlem will be losing its art room to make room for a charter school.

PS 30 in the Bronx will have to sacrifice its longstanding dental clinic.

A community dental clinic in a South Bronx school must shut down.

An award-winning robotics program in a Harlem school has to give up its room.

Another elementary school in Harlem is losing its showcase art room.

These are among the sacrifices that district schools are being forced to make to free up room for charter schools to move into or expand in their buildings, according to a team of UFT and NAACP representatives that recently visited the schools.

As the New York Teacher went to press, a hearing before a state court judge slated for June 21. The union and its co-plaintiffs, including the NAACP, were seeking a preliminary injunction to stop the Department of Education from moving forward with the school closures and co-locations that are being challenged. The lawsuit was filed in May.

The DOE has moved to close 21 schools, including 15 that it tried to close a year ago, and co-locate 18 charter schools in district school buildings that do not have the space or facilities to fairly accommodate both schools. These district schools have lost or will lose classrooms, support services for students and even whole programs when co-located charters expand or come into their buildings in the fall, the UFT found. The resulting inequities violate state law mandating equal access to facilities, the lawsuit says.

Among the findings by the UFT and NAACP team:

  • At PS 123 in Harlem, which shares its building with Harlem Success Academy Charter School II, the relationship has been difficult from the start. PS 123 lost space and guidance services for its K-8 students when the charter moved in. Five third-floor offices at PS 123 are former closets and have no ventilation or fresh air. Its robotics program, which placed fourth in the city in 2008-2009, had to give up its room, and the parent association room, where GED classes and job training workshops took place, was also turned over to the charter. Next year, PS 123 will have to give up another four rooms, including its SAVE room and a mental health clinic run by Columbia Presbyterian in a second-floor room. The charter has very few special education students, PS 123 staffers told the team, while PS 123 is taking more and more special-needs students from the district and from seven homeless shelters in the neighborhood.
  • When PS 30 in the South Bronx began sharing space with Bronx Success Academy Charter School I this year, it had to give up its music room and condense speech therapy and ESL programs into a single room. It is slated to lose three full-size classrooms to the charter next year, though PS 30’s enrollment is projected to stay the same or increase. That has caused some painful choices, including sacrificing a longstanding dental clinic on the first floor in order to find space for a recently funded dual-language program. PS 30 will also turn its Academic Intervention Services room into a classroom. Five of its six special education self-contained classrooms will be downsized to half-size classrooms.

Bronx Success Academy, which occupies the third floor, is fully air-conditioned. Many of its classrooms have wall-to-wall carpeting, ergonomically designed chairs and tables, and smartboards. PS 30’s first-floor classrooms are still without air conditioning. Though the charter school, with only grades K-1 this year, has half as many students, it has two science labs on its floor. PS 30 has one lab, which is used by its upper grades only. The lawsuit notes that the two schools are each allotted the same amount of gym time, though PS 30 has twice the number of students as Bronx Success Academy.

  • PS 308, a K-8 school in Brooklyn’s East New York, is slated to share space on its third floor with the first two grades of Teaching Firms of America Professional Preparatory Charter School this fall. To accom­modate the influx of new students, PS 308 will have to convert its mini-gym (used by grades 3, 4 and 5) and two other rooms into an additional cafeteria, losing 19 gym periods a week. The school will have to move its 2nd-grade classes into the open first-floor area where kindergarten classes are now held, breaking up the area into small, enclosed classrooms.
  • Central Park East 1 elementary school, Central Park East HS and JHS 13 share a building with three community-based organizations in District 4. East Harlem Scholars Academy Charter School is to be sited on the fourth floor for next year, a source of bitterness since the elementary school itself was hoping to add a middle school but the DOE has denied its request for expansion for the past four years in a row. JHS 13’s art and science teachers will have to share the science room. Because the charter school will be located on the fourth floor, its K-1 students will share bathrooms with the teens of JHS 13, a situation that worries parents and staff.

The lawsuit argues that the DOE’s Building Utilization Plans, part of the impact statements that it was required to file for each co-location, often inequitably divided the building space, giving disproportionate time in the common areas to the charter school even when the charter has fewer students.

The DOE has modified some utilization plans in the wake of the lawsuit to try to address the inequities, but there are still many situations where access to facilities remains inequitable, according to the findings of the recent site visits.

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