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July 8, 2011
City Council's UFT charter school support raises ire, eyebrows
People on both sides of the charter school fight are not happy about a hefty City Council earmark that's going to the teachers union's charter school. The funding, sponsored by City Councilman Erik Dilan and approved last month in the council's annual capital budget allocations, gives the union $2 million to develop a plan for moving its charter school out of the two East New York buildings it shares and into space of its own. The announcement comes as charter schools and their critics are locked in fierce debate over how the city funds and allocates space to charter schools. That dispute is central to a lawsuit, filed in May by the UFT and NAACP, that seeks to stop 16 charter schools from opening, moving, or expanding. The lawsuit alleges that some charter schools receive disproportionate public resources, and some of its backers say the City Council earmark is another example. Teacher activist Norm Scott called the funding "a double outrage, maybe a triple outrage."
June 30, 2011
Construction for Success Academy at Brandeis may begin soon
A judge today opened the door for construction to start at Brandeis Educational Complex in preparation for a charter school to move into the building. The hearing was a part of the lawsuit filed by Brandeis parents to stop Upper West Success Academy from opening in the Brandeis campus, which is currently home to five high schools. The city has said that it needs four weeks to prepare the building for Upper West Success, which would be the only elementary school in the building. Since teachers are set to begin work on August 2 and classes start August 24, construction on an elementary-only cafeteria and multipurpose room would need to begin immediately. Judge Paul Feinman chose not to extend the temporary restraining order against those plans, saying that it made sense to allow some construction to begin in case the co-location was given a green light. "I don't see what harm there is to allow construction on the first floor to move forward," he said.
June 27, 2011
Charter school advocates demand UFT apology but get debate
Charter school parents and advocates protest outside UFT headquarters today. Charter school parents and teachers took their fight against the UFT and NAACP's school closure and co-location lawsuit to the headquarters of the main group that filed it. About 250 people gathered this morning outside the United Federation of Teachers' Lower Manhattan offices to demand that the union drop the lawsuit, which would stop 16 charter schools from opening, moving, or expanding. They emphasized that some charter schools are set to start their school years in as few as six weeks but don't yet know where or if they will be opening. The protest was the first that specifically targeted the teachers union since the lawsuit was filed May 18. Last month, a much larger group of protesters rallied outside the Harlem headquarters of the NAACP, which joined the UFT in the suit. Protesters chanted a series of slogans for nearly an hour, at one point shouting "UFT: Apologize" for more than three minutes straight. The demand referenced a statement made last week by a union lawyer that he would not negotiate with charter school advocates until they apologized to the NAACP. UFT officials took a softer line today, handing out baked goods and hats emblazoned with the union's logo. Later, two UFT officials rolled a coffee cart along the side of the protest bullpen.
June 23, 2011
Charter school backers decline offer to apologize to NAACP
A small window of opportunity to resume settlement talks between dueling sides in the charter school co-location lawsuit has been slammed shut. On Tuesday, an…
June 23, 2011
For newly-freed charter schools, different paths to dismissal
The three schools released from the UFT and NAACP lawsuit this week followed different paths to legal freedom. The case for one of the schools relied on a broad base of community support, but a single man, Geoffrey Canada, made the case for the other two schools. Charter school advocates believe Canada's profile as a well-regarded, African-American education reformer made him an unpopular target for the NAACP. They say the decision to drop these schools from the lawsuit, which charges that the co-locations give preferential treatment to charter school students, weren't made on legal merits. "It makes it pretty clear that it’s not about equity. It's not about the children," said Rafiq Kalam Id-Din II, whose new school in Bedford-Stuyvesant is named in the suit. "This is about politics." Girls Preparatory Academy was unique from the other 17 schools named in the suit because its co-location plan had already received widespread community support. At the initial public hearing in February, both of the schools' leaders endorsed co-location, as did Lisa Donlan, the district's Community Education Council president and a frequent charter school critic. “There was not one person who opposed this co-location,” Donlan said.
June 21, 2011
No ruling in court date, decision on co-location lawsuit delayed
A highly-anticipated day in court in a fight over school closures and co-locations ended in a draw Tuesday afternoon, with both sides agreeing to keep a restraining order on any immediate plans for new schools. Judge Paul Feinman extended a temporary restraining order against the city's plans but said he needed more time to decide whether the plans should be halted permanently. That means the Department of Education is still prohibited from moving forward with any construction or renovation plans meant to set district school buildings up for co-location. That isn’t a huge concern at the moment, though, because school doesn't end for another week. The earliest planned construction for a co-location is at Brandeis High School, where the Upper West Success Academy is slated to open in the fall. That construction is supposed to begin July 1, but in a separate lawsuit, Feinman ordered a temporary stay construction there as well. Feinman isn’t likely to make a decision until after June 27, when the Panel for Educational Policy holds its next meeting. At that meeting, which some lawyers referred to as “D Day,” the PEP will vote on revised co-location plans for almost all of the charter schools listed in the lawsuit.
June 20, 2011
In NAACP lawsuit, settlement details emerge then quickly retract
An optimistic press release that was later retracted is the latest sign that discussions to settle a lawsuit over charter school co-locations are intensifying in advance of the suit's first day in court. On Friday, the NAACP announced an agreement with the Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott to remove three schools from its lawsuit against the Department of Education. The announcement did not explain the changes, but indicated that the same solution could potentially be applied to each of the 19 charter schools listed in the suit. "Our conversations with the Department of Education are beginning to bear fruit," NAACP CEO Ben Jealous said in a statement from the press release. "Resolution on these three schools gives us hope. It allows us to focus on reaching the same agreement with regard to other schools." But education department officials said they were caught off guard by the press release, which was later retracted. They immediately called charter school founders and principals to deny that a deal had been struck. In an email sent to the city's charter school network on Sunday, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, whom Jealous credited for the deal, said he was "outraged that the NAACP issued a false statement about an agreement that does not exist."
June 13, 2011
Parent group says it will file separate suit challenging closures
More litigation could be targeted at Tweed's plans to close struggling schools, even as one lawsuit seems to be headed toward an amicable settlement. The New York City Parents Union announced this afternoon that it plans to file a separate lawsuit against the Department of Education, charging that its policy of closing low-performing schools and co-locating charter schools in district space was illegal. The lawsuit, according to the announcement, would effectively stop all school closure and co-locations from moving forward. "We, the public school parents, challenge the cynical chicanery of Chancellor Walcott and the DOE. We reject the privatization agenda supported by Mayor Bloomberg and his appointees. Our children deserve the best education and a supportive administration, and we will fight for all children to receive equal access to a quality education," the statement said. The lawsuit would also seek to reverse charter school co-locations because they aren't charged market rent for space in district school buildings.
June 8, 2011
As city revises space-sharing plans, settlement looks possible
A contentious legal battle between the city and the teachers union could be inching toward a settlement as school officials race to re-write plans that are key to the dispute. In the past month, city officials have revised each of 20 space-sharing plans outlining how charter schools would be housed inside district buildings. The way that previous plans allocated space between charter and district schools is a central criticism of the teachers union's lawsuit. The sweeping revision effort is in direct response to the lawsuit, filed May 18, Chancellor Dennis Walcott acknowledged in a statement. Several of the plaintiffs listed on the lawsuit praised the revisions and indicated that they might lead to an out-of-court settlement. In a conference call with reporters, Ben Jealous, the president of the NAACP, a lead plaintiff in the suit, said his organization’s ultimate goal was to place all students in their school of choice. "We are open to all options to settle this suit," he said. Michael Mulgrew, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, said in an interview today that he was "happy" with the efforts. UFT lawyers, he said, have expressed cautious optimism that the revised plans would satisfy their demands. The city's move means that the plans, many of which were already approved by the Panel for Educational Policy, will require new votes by the PEP and new public hearings to solicit community feedback on their terms. The city began holding new hearings this week.
June 8, 2011
NAACP's Dukes defends suit: "I'm not against charter schools"
Hazel Dukes, the president of the NAACP of New York, said last night on NY1 that she supports charter schools but wants equal conditions for children attending district schools. In a television interview last night, the president of the NAACP of New York insisted that she does not oppose the opening of charter schools or the closure of failing schools — even as she defended her organization's role in a lawsuit that would reverse planned school closures and slow charter school growth. Speaking to NY1 Inside City Hall host Errol Louis, Hazel Dukes said that she only wanted district schools to have the same conditions as charter schools, which she praised. "Let's make it an equal playing field," she said. "That's not hard to do. We can do that with the stroke of a pen." She added, "My motive is not to keep any failing schools open. My motive has never been to say that teachers who can't teach need to be in schools. My motive is two things: justice and equality." Hazel Dukes said she her goal wasn't to prevent charters from opening but that the process was hurried. The biggest effect, she said, was overcrowding in school buildings, which she said has a disproportionate — and negative — impact on district school students. "Mr. Louis, tell me why all children can’t have the same amount of library time. Tell me why all children can’t have access to a playground," she said. The lawsuit, which the NAACP co-filed with the United Federation of Teachers and a host of elected officials and parents, aims to halt the closure of 22 district schools and plans to co-locate 20 charter schools inside district space. City school officials have said that a victory could disturb high school admission plans for the fall, and charter school leaders have said that, without the city space that they were counting on, they would not be able to open schools that children already plan to attend.
June 3, 2011
In court, UFT and NAACP ask for immediate halt to closure plans
UFT President Michael Mulgrew speaks at an NAACP rally Friday morning. The organizations are the primary plaintiffs on a lawsuit against the Department of Education. Seeking to force an immediately halt to the city's plans to close 22 schools and co-locate another 19 charter schools, the teachers union and the NAACP asked for a temporary restraining order against the Department of Education on Thursday. The court request would force the plans to end whether or not a judge rules in favor of the original lawsuit challenging the city's plans. That lawsuit, filed by the United Federation of Teachers and the NAACP last month, argues that the closures and co-locations create an unequal allocation of resources. City school officials immediately criticized the attempted restraining order, describing a colliding impact that they said would target thousands of high school students. Last year, when another lawsuit by the teachers union and the NAACP forced the city to reverse its plans to close struggling schools, the city delayed matching students to high schools until the outcome of the suit was clear. This year, the city has already matched students to high schools. It's not obvious what would happen to re-match students to closing high schools, but school officials said the process would be chaotic. “It would throw the high school admissions process into disarray,” a Department of Education official said, speaking on background.
June 2, 2011
NAACP fighting back with pro-lawsuit rally of its own
Pushing back against criticism of its involvement in a lawsuit that could negatively affect charter schools, the NAACP has announced plans to stage a rally of its own tomorrow. The historic civil rights group and its supporters plan to rally tomorrow morning outside the offices of the Success Charter Network. The charter school chain's CEO, Eva Moskowitz, was a leader in galvanizing parents to protest the NAACP's involvement in the lawsuit. The NAACP's rally, which will feature elected officials named as plaintiffs in the suit, is the latest episode in a dust-up that makes race a central issue in the ongoing battle over charter school co-locations. Since the NAACP signed on last month to a union-initiated lawsuit to stop 22 school closures and prevent 17 charter schools from opening, moving, or expanding, charter school parents and advocates have been battering the group. Black parents whose children attend charter schools are questioning why the NAACP, which has long fought for education equity for black students, would stand in the way of their interests. They held a 2,500-person strong rally against the NAACP in Harlem last week and yesterday appeared at the Midtown office of the group's New York leader, Hazel Dukes. Last week, Dukes told me she joined the lawsuit for the same reason that the NAACP brought the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case, which ended “separate but equal” schooling based on race. “Co-location is not the answer,” Dukes said. “We are setting up separate and unequal education.” "Because of the NAACP’s stand for all children, they are being criticized by those who seek to only divide our community, pitting parent against parent, and distorting the facts about the lawsuit against the NYC DOE," states a press release about the event tomorrow.
June 1, 2011
Charter parents get audience, but not agreement, with NAACP
The president of the NAACP's New York chapter kept her word to meet with angry charter school parents today — after 20 of them appeared at her Midtown office. The parents traveled to president Hazel Dukes' office this morning, four days after a large rally against the civil rights group's involvement in a lawsuit that could negatively affect several charter schools. A day before the rally, Dukes told GothamSchools, "Any parent that wants to meet with me, I will meet with them anywhere they want." Since then, more than 2,000 parents have signed on to a letter asking for a meeting with Dukes, according to Kerri Lyon, a spokeswoman for the New York City Charter School Center. But Ny Whitaker, whose child attends Harlem Success Academy, said she tried twice last week to schedule a meeting before telling an assistant that she would bring a group to Dukes' office today. When the group arrived this morning, Dukes invited its members in for a conversation. Dukes didn't accede to the parents' chief demand — that the NAACP withdraw from the lawsuit, which seeks to prevent 17 charter schools from opening, moving, or expanding. But parents in the meeting said Dukes signaled a willingness to engage them in dialogue.
May 26, 2011
In Harlem, charter school parents and students target NAACP
Students and families protested today in Harlem against the NAACP's involvement in a lawsuit against school closures and charter school co-locations with district schools. (Chris Arp) About 2,500 people rallied in Harlem this morning, calling on the NAACP to withdraw from its lawsuit with the teachers union against the city Department of Education. That lawsuit seeks to stop the closure of 22 schools as well as the placement of several charter schools in district school space. Speakers at Thursday’s rally included charter school parents and teachers, Harlem Children's Zone president and CEO Geoffrey Canada, and the actor Seth Gilliam from “The Wire,” whose child is a on a waiting list for a charter school. Speakers and attendees denounced the NAACP’s participation in a lawsuit they said would harm charter schools primarily serving students of color. "Ms. Dukes, turn your back on this lawsuit,” said Kathy Kernizan, the parent of a student at the Uncommon Schools charter network, referring to Hazel Dukes, president of the NAACP New York State Conference. A letter to Dukes with signatures from charter school advocates was circulated through the crowd asking the organization to withdraw from the suit. A spokesperson for the New York City Charter Center, which helped organize the event, said that more than 2,000 signatures had been collected this week. “We gotta demand quality education,” Canada told the crowd. “We have to be prepared to fight for that.” The city Department of Education's proposal calls for two of the charter schools associated with the Harlem Children's Zone, the Promise Academy charter schools, to be co-located inside district schools. The charter center spokesperson said the protest, held outside the Harlem State Office building at 125th Street, was not the work of any one organization. But at least two groups appear to have taken leading roles: the charter center, an advocacy and support organization for charter schools in the city, and the Success Charter Network created by Eva Moskowitz. Many of the families at the rally had children at one of the Success network's nine schools. (Seven of the network's schools are named in the lawsuit.) Click here for a slideshow of photographs from the rally.
May 25, 2011
Some invitations to charter school rally omit its NAACP focus
Flier faxed today to City Councilman Robert Jackson The main purpose of a charter school parent rally tomorrow is to demand that the NAACP withdraw from a lawsuit that threatens some charter schools. But not everyone being recruited to the rally is being told that the NAACP is its intended target. The office of City Councilman Robert Jackson received a fax at 3:33 p.m. that asks elected officials to "support us and come speak at the rally tomorrow." The fax, whose origin was not identified, says the rally is "to save our schools from the lawsuit" and is signed "Harlem Parents." Jackson, who chairs the council's education committee, is one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed by the UFT and NAACP to stop 22 school closures and prevent 17 charter schools from opening, moving, or expanding. In fact, more than 1,600 parents have signed on to a letter to the NAACP, according to Kerri Lyon, a spokeswoman for the New York City Charter School Center, which is supporting the rally. "They clearly know who is standing in their way," Lyon said.
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