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Parents Irate Over Plans to Open Charter High School Downtown

By Julie Shapiro | June 3, 2011 6:53am | Updated on June 3, 2011 5:37pm
Students headed into the P.S. 234 schoolyard at the beginning of the school day recently. P.S. 234 is overcrowded and holds a lottery to decide who will be admitted.
Students headed into the P.S. 234 schoolyard at the beginning of the school day recently. P.S. 234 is overcrowded and holds a lottery to decide who will be admitted.
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DNAinfo/Julie Shapiro

By Julie Shapiro

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

LOWER MANHATTAN — Parents are furious about an Education Department's plan to partner with a charter high school that's looking to start up a program Downtown.

Residents say the city has been denying requests to add more seats for lower school grades.

Now, they say the city is creating more space for high schoolers, while elementary schools are left brimming over.

"We're enraged," said Sarah Chu, second vice president of the District 2 Community Education Council which covers lower Manhattan. "Any site downtown should be prioritized first for elementary or middle school."

The Education Department has said lower Manhattan does not need any more elementary seats beyond those that are already planned at the Peck Slip Post Office site.

The city instead plans to solve the overcrowding problem by shipping surplus students who live Downtown to schools in the Village or Chinatown rather than building more schools, officials said in April.

So parents were irate to find that the DOE had invited some in the community to a hearing scheduled June 6 about four possible sites for the New York Flex Charter School.

Tricia Joyce, a downtown overcrowding activist, said she is angry that the Department of Education would consider putting a charter high school downtown after recently barring the popular Millennium High School from expanding in the neighborhood.

"It makes absolutely no sense," Joyce said.

The school has identified four potential sites below Houston Street for its 550-student campus: 200 Hudson St., 175 Varick St., 123 William St. and 17 Battery Pl., according to a proposal submitted earlier this year. The school plans to rent the space they eventually end up using.

A Department of Education spokesman said in a statement: "The charter school, not the Department of Education, is putting up money to lease private space. There is no reason we should deny families a new option, at no expense to the City."

New York Flex's backers — who include Yung Moon, the associate publisher of SELF Magazine — envision the school as a place where teachers use technology to tailor students' education to their needs.

The school's goal is to combine "the best of online education with traditional, onsite schooling [for] students who can benefit most from self-paced, differentiated, individualized instruction, whether they need more challenge or are behind in credits," according to the proposal.

New York Flex did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The city is holding a public hearing on New York Flex next Monday, and Chu is encouraging as many parents as possible to attend to voice their displeasure at the move.

"The time for activism is now," she said.

The city initially planned to hold the hearing at 7 p.m. on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend but rescheduled it after public outcry by parents and Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, who called the timing "a slap in the face" and said in a mass e-mail that "the only party the DOE is interested in hearing from is themselves."

The hearing will now be held at 7 p.m. June 6 at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis High School for International Careers, at 120 W. 46th St. Those who want to speak can begin signing up at 6:30 p.m.