By Patrick Hedlund
DNAinfo News Editor
MANHATTAN — Just days after a federal judge ruled that the Department of Education broke the law by moving to close 19 schools across the city, a group of Lower East Siders have filed a formal challenge to the city’s plan to expand a charter school without weighing the impact it would have on local students, especially those with disabilities.
The DOE previously approved the expansion of Girls Prep Charter School, which currently shares a building with P.S. 188 and P.S. 94, to accommodate hundreds more middle school students at the East Houston Street building.
The decision has faced opposition from local parents who charge that move would unfairly overburden other schools in the district and lead to overcrowding at the East Houston Street school, which the DOE says is operating at under capacity.
Advocates announced that they would lodge a formal complaint with the state Education Department at a press conference on the steps of City Hall Monday.
“The department has failed to follow the legal requirements that are there to protect the interests of the students at P.S. 94 and P.S. 188,” said Kim Sweet, executive director of Advocates for Children of New York, which has provided parents with legal assistance, according to InsideSchools.org.
“Its actions show a troubling disregard for the impact of its co-location plans on these students and their community.”
Girls Prep is seeking to expand into additional classrooms within the Lower East Side School, space that is currently used by special-needs students with autism, the Web site reported.
Advocates fear the growth of Girls Prep could force special-needs students to be moved out of the district and increase enrollment at other schools in nearby Chinatown and Lower Manhattan.
Their challenge specifically faults the DOE for failing to provide comprehensive Educational Impact Statements detailing all the possible consequences of the expansion.
"They have to issue Educational Impact Statements that answer the community’s concerns," Sweet told DNAinfo. "You can’t have an honest conversation with the community if you don’t acknowledge the squeeze that these decisions are putting on existing programs."
In its assessment, the DOE has assured that no students from the Lower East Side school would be displaced under the expansion plan and that the school building is operating at only two-thirds its capacity, according to the Lo-Down.
“We fully disclosed the impact on the schools involved and followed all of the appropriate procedures set forth in the law,” DOE spokesman Danny Kanner said in a statement. “We intend to aggressively contest these claims before the Commissioner."