NAACP Leader Lashes Out at Critics of School Lawsuit
By Jeff Mays
HARLEM— It's a big lunch fight pitting the NAACP versus Eva Moskowitz' Success Charter Network.
NAACP leader Hazel Dukes struck back on Friday against the former city councilwoman's group. The Success Charter Network had accused the civil rights organization of hurting students with a lawsuit over placing charter schools inside public schools.
Dukes insisted the NAACP was leading the fight to provide equal access to a high quality education for all students.
"These parents are living with segregation," Dukes said of the public school parents while standing in front of Success Charter Network's headquarters on Lenox Avenue between West 125th and 126th streets.
"Why is it that students across the hall have laptops and those other students don't? We realize that is separate and unequal," said Kim Keenan, general counsel for the NAACP. "Students' education should not be based on a lottery," she added.
Charter school parents had participated in a rally in front of the Harlem State Office building last week demanding that the NAACP withdraw from the lawsuit. Then on Wednesday, a group of them met with Dukes in her office where she explained that she wasn't against charter schools but refused to withdraw from the lawsuit.
The lawsuit would prevent 19 charter schools from opening or expanding in the fall.
Parents and elected officials at Friday's rally said that the charter movement was more interested in profit than making sure all children had access to a good education.
They say the move in recent years to establish charter schools within district schools has crowded buildings and left children without proper facilities. Advocates claim charter schools receive preferential treatment from the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
"This isn't about one charter school, but about 19 high quality schools across the city that are in danger of not being able to serve their students," said Kerri Lyon, spokesperson for the NYC Charter School Center in a statement.
Public school parents disagreed.
Miriam Holmes, who has three children ages 6 to 13 at P.S./M.S. 149, which shares space with Harlem Success Academy I, said her kids eat lunch before 11 a.m. because of the crowding the co-location has caused.
She said Harlem Success students have newly renovated restrooms that students in the district school can't use.
"Our toilets are backing up, our bathrooms are in disrepair, our children have class in the hallway or on the stage. They won't even let our children play together," said Holmes. "We are not against charter schools but you are not better than our children."
District 3 Community Education Council president Noah Gotbaum said the situation at P.S./M.S. 149 is being repeated all around the city.
"Our public school kids are in the basement next to the boiler room. That's seperate and unequal," Gotbaum said.
Elected officials such as Assemblymen Keith Wright, Council members Robert Jackson, Gale Brewer, Inez Dickens and Senator Bill Perkins said attacking the NAACP over this issue was silly given the civil rights group's history of fighting for equal education.
"Sometimes you have to stand up and stand tall and we are standing up for the children of New York City," said Jackson. "The NAACP has stood tall for over 100 years to fight discrimination."