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Harlem Parents Protest 'Separate and Unequal' Charter School Space Shares

By Jeff Mays | June 22, 2012 12:05pm
A student holds a sign showing Fresh Direct food being delivered to a charter school co-located in a district school.
A student holds a sign showing Fresh Direct food being delivered to a charter school co-located in a district school.
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

HARLEM — Chanting "separate is unequal," a group of public school parents and teachers gathered  Thursday to decry what they call preferential treatment for charter schools that take space inside district schools.

Teachers and parents told stories of how the city policy of co-locating charter schools inside of district schools is squeezing them and their students out of educational space, depriving local students of the space they need to get a good education. They said the space allotment is the latest in a long line of disadvantages for district schools, which also suffer from limited resources and poor classrooms and bathrooms.

"They take away from the schools so they cannot thrive," Bill Hargraves, whose son used to attend P.S. 123, said at Thursday's meeting at 110th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard.

Wadleigh Secondary School for the Performing Arts' middle school had been on the Department of Education's chopping block until parents, politicians, teachers and activists launched a protest. But now the city is planning to move two grades of the Harlem Success Academy Middle School, a charter school, into the building in the fall, critics say.

Wadleigh librarian Paul McIntosh said the school is going to lose valuable space such as two computer labs and a science lab when Harlem Success Academy's Middle School takes over the fifth floor in the fall.

"We are going to be packed in like sardines," he said. "There are 9th grade students who can't get into Wadleigh because we don't have the space."

Lisa Pressley's daughter was one of them. She wanted her daughter to attend Wadleigh so she could take Advanced Placement classes but was told by the DOE there was no more space.

It wasn't until she threatened to sue that her daughter gained admission to the school, she said.

"How can you justify telling us we can't accept more students when we have a waiting list of students?" said McIntosh.

The DOE said previously that the schools where co-locations are in place have underutilized space.

Protesters said  P.S. 30 Hernandez Hughes, which has been co-located with Success Academy Harlem 2 since 2008, protesters said there is unequal space.

According to a survey by New York Communities for Change, P.S. 30 has one science lab while Success Academy Harlem 2 has four. P.S. 30 has seven providers giving occupational therapy, speech therapy and physical therapy in a half classroom while Success Academy Harlem 2 has a speech room and an occupational therapy room.

"This is about money. This is about resources," said Tory Liferidge, a youth a young adult pastor at First Corinthian Baptist Church in Harlem.

Parents and teachers also said the charter schools have money to redo facilities in the building such as bathrooms and classrooms. When district kids see the newer facilities, they feel less important than kids at charter schools, they said.

Representatives from Harlem Success Academy pointed to a report from the New York City Charter School Center that found that co-located schools tend to be less crowded. Opponets disagree with the space utilization figures used to develop the findings.

Eva Moskowitz, founder and CEO of Harlem Success Academy, argued in an op-ed in the Daily News Friday that union officials only oppose non-unionized, co-located charter schools.

"Charter school parents are public school parents just like any others," said Kerri Lyon, a spokeswoman for the Success Academy Charter Network.

Noah Gotbaum, a member of Community Education Council 3 said district schools are facing unfair conditions.

"We are not here to denigrate anyone. We are here to make sure all kids get a proper education," Gotbaum said

"Parents are saying Walcott, Bloomberg, stand up and help us educate our kids. Give us the resources."