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Plan to Expand Bushwick Charter School Gets Pushback From Parents

By Gwynne Hogan | February 28, 2017 9:52am
 Mothers from two public middle schools co-located at  are angry that a charter school within K111 building on Starr Street will be allowed to expand.
Mothers from two public middle schools co-located at are angry that a charter school within K111 building on Starr Street will be allowed to expand.
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DNAinfo/Gwynne Hogan

BUSHWICK — Parents at two co-located middle schools are furious at the Department of Education's plan to take more space from them in order to give it to a controversial charter school housed in the same building.

Parents with kids in I.S. 349 and I.S. 347 fear the Department of Education will continue awarding more room to Achievement First University Prep, until there's nothing left for them, they said.

"They want to keep cutting back our space." said Maria Angelica Castillo, 39, mother of a 13-year-old sixth grader at I.S. 349, one of the two middle schools co-located inside the school building at 35 Starr St. in Bushwick.

"If we keep going this way, we're going to lose the school," she said in Spanish.

Under the revised plan, which is slated to be voted on by the DOE's Panel for Education Policy on Tuesday, the charter school would get four more classrooms that currently belong to I.S. 347.

I.S. 349 will get one additional classroom currently assigned to I.S. 347.

Achievement First, which currently has a higher enrollment but fewer classrooms than the other two middle schools in the building, would also get to use the gym, the dance room and the music room for more time than either middle school, under the proposal.

DOE spokesman Michael Aciman said the department determined there was excess space in the building and was reallocating it more equally.

Councilman Antonio Reynoso and State Assemblywoman Maritza Davila, who rallied with angry parents at the school on Monday, said they do not agree with the city's assessment that there was "excess space" in the building. They added that they're losing even more space than accounted for in the DOE estimates.

"There's not even one empty room, it's a lie," Castillo said.

In addition, there is already tension with the way space is used in the building, parents say.

Since the charter high school took over the building's fourth floor in 2015, middle schoolers in the other schools have had gym time cut back, parents say. Students are sometimes trapped in the hallway for fifteen or twenty minutes waiting for high schoolers to clear out, and on other occasions get barred from using the gym by the charter school all together, critics say.

Parents said they have seen their schools limit music classes only for sixth graders, canceled drama and chess and no longer have access to an patio that they used to use during lunch, all of which they attribute to having to share the space with the charter school.

The Department of Education did not immediately comment on those complaints.

Peter Cymrot, who works for Achievement First helping the network expand, said that their high schoolers have been given the "bare bones" in terms of space in the building.

"The space we're provided; it has not been sufficient in order to offer our core programs to our students," Cymrot said. "It's just incredibly tight. We’re not talking about the ability to do electives."

Aciman said the DOE would consider the parents' concerns.

“We value community feedback and we’ll continue to listen to and work with families at each school community throughout this process to ensure the needs of all students are met," he said.