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Harlem Special Needs School Rallies Against Charter School Expansion

By Jeff Mays | March 11, 2014 8:02am
 Parents and elected officials gathered Monday outside a Harlem school that serves special needs children to support  Mayor Bill De Blasio's decision to not allow Eva Moskowitz' Success Academy charter schools to expand in the space .
Harlem Special Needs School Rally
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HARLEM — Parents and elected officials gathered Monday outside a Harlem school that serves special needs children to support Mayor Bill de Blasio's decision not to allow Eva Moskowitz' Success Academy charter schools to expand in the space.

The group, which included Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, congressional candidate the Rev. Michael Walrond and state NAACP President Hazel Dukes, criticized Moskowitz's plans to sue to allow the co-location to go forward at P.S. 811, which already shares space at 118th Street and Lenox Avenue building with P.S. 149 and Success Academy Harlem 1.

The expansion would have allowed Success Academy Harlem 4 to grow by up to 375 students in grades 5 to 8.

Dukes said Moskowitz had "hijacked the language of civil rights" when she said at a protest less than a mile away that the denial of an additional co-location at the school was about "educational justice."

Success Academy plans to file challenges against all three of its schools that were denied co-locations last week. Success Academy parents also said they intend to file a civil rights lawsuit.

"You can't imagine a better school for kids with severe special needs," said Brewer. "You cannot throw out P.S. 811 to make room for more charter schools."

Under the proposal, Success Academy Harlem 4 would have been allowed to expand at the school, pushing capacity to more than 130 percent.

Parents like Beajae Payne, 26, a stay-at-home mom whose autistic son Janari, 4, attends P.S. 811, said that would not be fair to her child who sometimes has to take speech and other therapies in crowded rooms.

"It would've been bad," she said of the proposed co-location. "They don't have space as it is."

Since Janari began attending the school a few months ago, Payne said she has seen improvement in her son's behavior and socialization skills.

"He deserves the best opportunities just like any other kid," Payne said.

De Blasio jumped into the debate about P.S. 811 last June, when he was the city's public advocate and a mayoral candidate, at the behest of parents who contacted his office.

De Blasio sent a letter to the former schools chancellor saying that Moskowitz seemed to be getting special treatment.

The city approved the co-locations of 14 of the 17 schools that de Blasio said were rushed through at the end of the Bloomberg Administration. De Blasio said the most disruptive co-locations were denied.

"We finally have a mayor who will stand up for those who can't speak for themselves," said Sonya Hampton, president of the Parent Teacher Association at P.S. 149.

In June, DOE officials said three new schools planned for special needs children downtown would open in the next two years, which would make space at P.S. 811

One school, M281 at 425 East 35th St. would be located near the FDR Drive. Another, M338, is planned at 525 West 44th St., which is located between 10th and 11th avenues. The third space, M340, would be at 590 Sixth Ave. at 17th Street.

P.S. 811 parents said most of the kids at the school live in Harlem school districts 3, 4, 5 and 6 and traveling downtown would be difficult for special needs kids, some of whom have travel restrictions due to their disability.

DOE officials now say the seats will be maintained at P.S. 811.

Walrond said the move would show that special needs children are not being neglected or taken for granted.

"We want all of our children to have a great education," Walrond said.

Yvette Santana said her 9-year-old grandson has attended P.S. 811 because of behavioral issues for three years.

"He's been in two other schools and they took him out of those schools so this was a last resort," said Santana, adding that the specially trained teachers have helped ease his issues.

Santana had a message for Moskowitz.

"We are not against charter schools so she should think about what she's doing because she's hurting the kids," Santana said.