By Gabriela Resto-Montero
CHELSEA — After months of heated arguments that pitted parents of charter school students against those whose kids attend nearby schools, a city education panel approved the expansion of Harlem Success Academy II Wednesday night.
The Panel for Educational Policy also ruled in favor of 12 other proposals for charter schools to move or expand into neighboring school space at a meeting held at the High School of Fashion Industry, in Chelsea.
Education chancellor Joel Klein began the meeting by acknowledging the tensions that have seen parents turn out in hundreds to both support and protest the expansion plans of charter schools in Harlem, the Lower East Side, Inwood and Chelsea.
"I can understand why any school moving in would like more space, that makes sense, but what's particularly interesting... is that all of a sudden, when charter schools are involved in sharing space there's been a big political push back and we should see it for what it is," Klein said.
Harlem Success Academy II will now be able to move into an East Harlem building that currently houses three schools. One of those schools, KAPPA II charter school, is being shut down. The other two, special education schools, will share facilities with Harlem Sucess Academy II.
Klein and the panel also approved moving Inwood's High School for Excellence and Innovation to a building already used by J.H.S. 52, as well as increasing the number of classrooms Girls Prep Charter School occupies in its Lower East Side building and expanding the KIPP Infinity Charter School at its current location in the I.S. 59 Roberto Clemente building.
Before the vote, the battery for one of the public microphones died after more than two hours of testimony from hundreds of parents and community members about the allocation of resources for schools.
Charisse Wiggins, of East Harlem, carried a sign reading "My Baby is Learning". Her 6-year-old daughter, Tezra Campbell is a first grader at Harlem Success Academy.
"This is the type of education people pay for and to have it for free is amazing," said Wiggins.
Parents and teachers with children in public schools objected to the sacrifice of successful programs in their schools for charters.
"Public policies are set up to favor charter schools and they wonder why public school parents are upset," said Alev Dervish, a teacher at P.S. 15 in TriBeCa.
Representative Patrick Sullivan, of Manhattan, voted against expanding both Girls Prep Charter School and Harlem Success Academy.
Although he said parent testimony was convincing, the formal report submitted to the panel reviewing the educational success of charter schools did not make a strong case.
"I don't see that these charter schools have superior performance," he said.