HARLEM — Charter schools boss Eva Moskowitz fought back against the Department of Education's decision to shut down three of her eight planned Success Academy charter school co-locations last week, lobbying the state Department of Education in a bid to force the city to restore the space.
"We want educational justice. We want access to educational excellence and opportunity," Moskowitz told reporters at the playground of P.S. 241 in Harlem, where Harlem 4, one of the three Success Academy schools denied space next year, is located.
"This is not just about the 194 scholars that we love [at Harlem 4], this is not just about Harlem Central, this is about our city, our state and our country. Are we going to take a giant leap forward and get beyond this crisis [in education], or are we going to get mired in politics?"
According to Emily Kim, the chief legal officer of Success Academy, the actions taken by Mayor Bill de Blasio and the city's Education Department violated New York State law requiring the city to issue an Educational Impact Statement and get approval from the Department’s Panel for Education Policy before making any significant changes in the use of a public school building. Kim said that includes decisions about removing co-locations.
Success Academy's first legal battle, filed with the state Education Commissioner on Monday, and focuses on the Harlem school site, according to a spokeswoman for the charter organization. She said advocates expect to be filed another round of legal papers on Friday that focus on two other Success schools that were denied colocation status, one in Jamaica, Queens, and another at Lower Manhattan's Murry Bergtraum.
Both legal briefs will ask the state to invalidate the city's colocation decisions, Kim said.
The spokewsoman also said parents at Harlem 4 are also planning to file a civil rights lawsuit this Friday in federal court this week over the co-location denial.
"These decisions have to follow a process and nobody is above the law," Moskowitz said. "There is a very extensive process [for co-location], and to — last Thursday at 2 p.m. — to simply reverse that, without any kind of public process, is simply not right."
Moskowitz said her decision to take the fight to court was part of a larger battle over the future of charters in the city.
“Are we going to be anti-charter, or are we going to be pro-public education?” Moskowitz said.
De Blasio and the DOE have defended the revocation of the co-locations, saying the plans were rushed through at the very end of the Bloomberg administration. The denied schools were the most egregiously placed, he argued, saying Harlem 4 was pushing special education students out of an existing public school. The middle school already hosts another charter school not affiliated with Success Academy.
“We believe we need to take care of special education kids. This was a facility working for special education kids, we want to reach more special education kids, and there’s an alternative we can find for Success Academy that will work for them,” de Blasio said Monday during an appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.
Moskowitz disputed the idea that special education students would be displaced by the continued co-location of Harlem 4.
"No students are being displaced. The mayor and the administration is going to have to explain why this site, which took a year to develop and was reviewed, up and done and backwards and forwards — why that location is not a great location for that school community," she said.
Education Department officials also said last week that they didn't want young elementary school children placed into a high school, as would have happened in the Jamaica and Lower Manhattan Success Academy co-locations.
The mayor also denied that the action against Success Academy was either a personal issue with Moskowitz or part of a broader attack against charter schools.
“I’ve never been against charter schools,” de Blasio said on Morning Joe.
Moskowitz said she looked forward to discussing the fate of the denied co-locations.
“We’ve only heard vague promises, and we’ve only heard that through the news media,” she said, claiming she’d, “reached out to mayor repeatedly” but so far had not received a call back.
De Blasio's camp is also facing a lawsuit by Public Advocate Letitia James' office, which is angry the city's Education Department allowed any co-locations to go forward.
James filed an initial lawsuit over the colocations back in December to force the city to suspend all pending co-locations of charter schools, but had put the legal action on hold pending de Blasio's review of the colocations. Over the weekend her office announced she plans to continue the legal action due to the number of charters awarded colocations by de Blasio's Department of Education.