By Patrick Hedlund
DNAinfo News Editor
MUNICIPAL DISTRICT — The city's Department of Education has disregarded a recent state ruling blocking a Lower East Side charter school from implementing an expansion plan that would squeeze out a special needs school from the building they share, a group of elected officials and parents said Monday.
The group, led by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, criticized Schools Chancellor Joel Klein for issuing an "emergency declaration" to allow the Girls Prep Charter School to expand the space it uses at 442 East Houston St. despite a decision from the state Education Department against the expansion plan. It would shrink the available space for P.S. 188 and P.S. 94.
P.S. 94 is a District 75 special-needs school that serves students with various learning disabilities, especially autism.
“We’re calling on the Department of Education once again to stop bulldozing parents,” Stringer said at the rally outside 1 Centre St., noting that there was no rationale provided for the emergency declaration. “We’re going to stop them every time they discriminate against our most vulnerable [students].”
Following a challenge to the expansion plan from local advocates, the state ruled on Aug. 2 that Girls Prep could not expand unless the DOE presented an Educational Impact Statement weighing the move’s possible effects on the student population.
Klein responded to the ruling by issuing the emergency declaration last week, an action that permits the DOE to circumvent the state’s decision by claiming it will benefit students’ general welfare.
“We have a an exemption in the law the [DOE] thinks they can drive a Mack Truck through,” said State Sen. Daniel Squadron, who was also joined by local Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh, Councilwoman Rosie Mendez and Councilman Robert Jackson, chairman of the Education Committee.
“What’s going to happen to the kids with severe autism and disabilities?" Squadron added. "That’s not how emergency powers work.”
The declaration, which is permitted by the state despite its ruling against the DOE, will expire after six months.
“Not a single autistic child in this program would be moved from their current location under our proposal," said DOE spokesman Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld. "The emergency declaration would solely be to provide space for 84 middle school girls who start school in one week and, without our immediate action, would not have a place to learn.”
A small group of parents from Girls Prep echoed sentiments expressed by opponents of the expansion that the issue should not pit one school against another.
“We want to work together; we want to share the space,” said Natividad Mercedes, of the Lower East Side, the mother of a fifth-grader at Girls Prep.
“It’s a little bit tight, but that’s what we’ve talked about since the beginning” of the expansion process, she said. “Sharing is caring.”