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Upper East Side Parents Speak Out Against Charter Schools at P.S. 158

By DNAinfo Staff on February 12, 2013 7:22pm  | Updated on February 12, 2013 7:44pm

 Parents are hoping the DOE opens a middle school when P.S. 158, at 1458 York Ave., has vacant space next year. They do not want a charter school there.
Parents are hoping the DOE opens a middle school when P.S. 158, at 1458 York Ave., has vacant space next year. They do not want a charter school there.
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UPPER EAST SIDE — Don't put another charter school in P.S. 158.

That's what Upper East Side parents are saying, after a four-month experiment that temporarily moved an East Village charter school, Girls Prep, into P.S. 158's building at 1458 York Ave.

P.S. 158 parents said they tried to welcome Girls Prep after the charter was suddenly displaced from its East 12th Street building, which became dangerously unstable last September.

But the difficulties of a charter school and a Department of Education public school sharing space quickly became apparent, said Todd Helmrich, a parent on P.S. 158's School Leadership Team.

All of the school's facilities — from bathrooms to stairwells — were designated either for Girls Prep or P.S. 158, and only students from that school could use them, Helmrich said at a recent meeting of Community Board 8's education committee.

For example, P.S. 158 students were not permitted to use the water fountains directly outside the gym — located on Girls Prep's floor, he said.

"The kids were not allowed to use those water fountains during physical education — they had to go down two flights of stairs and come back up because those were charter school water fountains," Helmrich said.

"They have their space, and the school that is the DOE school has their space, and the two do not mix, and as a result we lose a gymnasium [and] we lose access to stairwells."

Another parent said her child had to descend several flights of stairs to use the bathroom during gym class for the same reason.

Girls Prep moved back to the East Village a couple weeks ago, but the experience of sharing a space with the charter has strengthened P.S. 158 parents' opposition to ever allowing another charter school into their building.

"We're not anti-charter," Helmrich said. "That is not at all what this is about. Co-locating in a normal situation is difficult but it works — it can be done. But with a charter school it doesn't work."

Upper East Side parents say they would rather see a DOE-run middle school in the extra space that is available at P.S. 158.

"Now that we've had an experience with a charter school at 158, we want to tell the DOE, once again, for the third year in a row, that we need a middle school," said Judy Schneider, who co-chairs CB8's education committee.

"This is what we want at 158."

Simon Miller, a member of the District 2 Community Education Council District 2 member and an Upper East SIde parent, said that the CEC has seen problems with co-located charter schools across the district.

"The CEC had quite some time ago passed a resolution expressing its displeasure with charter schools in public school buildings. Because there's a whole different hierarchy and culture and set of rules and people to answer to, it's a very, very challenging situation," he said. "They tend to be the problems of not playing nice together in the sand box."

The Department of Education said in a statement that the agency has been listening to community input on the Upper East Side and is still examining data to decide how the available space in P.S. 158 will be used.

"While no final decisions have been made, we’re working hard to ensure its potential uses meet the needs of students and parents," a DOE spokeswoman said in a statement.

Girls Prep did not immediately respond to requests for comment.