Judge Blocks Construction of Controversial New UWS Charter School

By Leslie Albrecht | May 13, 2011 4:36pm | Updated on May 14, 2011 9:05am
Parents have sued to stop charter school Upper West Success Academy from moving into the Brandeis educational campus.
Parents have sued to stop charter school Upper West Success Academy from moving into the Brandeis educational campus.
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DNAinfo/Leslie Albrecht

By Leslie Albrecht

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

UPPER WEST SIDE — A judge has put the brakes on construction of a new Upper West Side charter school that would share space with five high schools, a victory for parents who were trying to block the move. 

"We're very gratified," said Lisa Steglich, the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit aimed at charter school Upper West Success Academy. "We think we're going to win the case on the merits and this is a first step in that direction."

The parents who filed the suit fear that the charter, an elementary school, will siphon resources away from existing public schools within the building. They also say it's not appropriate to put kindergarteners in the same space with high schoolers.

On Thursday, Manhattan Judge Carol Edmead issued a temporary restraining order against the Department of Education, blocking the start of work that would allow Upper West Success Academy to move into the Brandeis Educational Campus on West 84th Street.

The construction, which includes converting storage rooms to classrooms and building a new cafeteria, was slated to begin Friday.

For parents whose children won spots at Upper West Success Academy, a school in the Success Charter Network founded by former city councilwoman Eva Moskowitz, the order means more uncertainty.

"Every day in which this case isn't decided is a day that 200 parents have no idea where they're sending their kids to school next year," said Upper West Success spokeswoman Kerri Lyon. "For most of them, it's Upper West Success or a failing school that they deliberately chose not to send their children to."

Attorneys for the Department of Education said they plan to ask the court to reverse the order.

"While we do not believe the stay was warranted, it is not unusual for judges to preserve the status quo for a short period of time while they consider the legal issues before them," said Chlarens Orsland, assistant corporation counsel for the city's law department.

The order could stay in place until the court rules on the suit filed by Steglich and other parents against the DOE, seeking to block Upper West Success' move into the complex. 

Steglich, whose son attends Frank McCourt High School in the building, and other parents have battled plans for Upper West Success Academy to share space with the other schools for months before filing the lawsuit in April.

The action contends that Success Charter Network could easily afford to rent space elsewhere, because the company listed $3,000,000 in cash reserves in a recent financial statement.

Steglich defended the lawsuit and praised the judge's decision, adding that Upper West Success should have told parents whose children applied to the charter that the plan to move into Brandeis wasn't final.

The State University of New York, which oversees charter schools, must still OK the space-sharing plan, Steglich said.

"It's not like we're tearing these poor children out of their positions," Steglich said. "Their positions weren't finalized to begin with. It was incumbent upon Upper West Success Academy to explain that they hadn’t received final approval for the co-location."