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City Scraps Co-Location Plan for LES High School After Parent Backlash

 University Neighborhood High School is located at 200 Monroe St.
University Neighborhood High School is located at 200 Monroe St.
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DNAinfo/Allegra Hobbs

LOWER EAST SIDE — The city's education department has tossed a controversial plan to place a charter school inside an overcrowded high school almost immediately after it sparked a unified outcry from public school parents and students.

The Department of Education floated a plan last week to co-locate the City Charter School of the Arts at the University Neighborhood High School at 200 Monroe St. in the coming school year, arguing that the growing charter school was starved for space and resources.

But after withering community feedback and a re-assessment of the high school's available space, the DOE has backed off the proposal.

Parents at the cramped public school were elated.

"We're quite relieved," said Valerie Cruz, president of the UNHS parent teacher association. "We're really very thankful that the Department of Education came to this decision to put our children first and their education first."

DOE reps at a heated Community Education Council District 1 meeting last week told incensed PTA and CEC members that the co-location plan was the "best option" on the table, noting the building seemed to be at roughly 60 percent capacity.

That assessment prompted a backlash from parents and teens, who recounted stories of students eating lunch in the nurse's office because the cafeteria was too cramped and gym-less athletes bounding up the stairs for exercise.

The PTA shortly afterward launched a petition imploring the agency to reconsider, which quickly garnered over 700 signatures, while Councilwoman Margaret Chin and Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez on Monday penned a letter to schools Chancellor Carmen Farina arguing the co-location would overcrowd the already cramped building, yielding detrimental results for both schools.

The DOE responded the day the letter was sent, notifying Chin's office it had opted to scrap the plan and look elsewhere, according to a rep for the councilwoman.

The councilwoman said she was grateful for the DOE's ruling, which she believes will benefit both student bodies.

"I am incredibly pleased by this decision, which will ensure that current and future UNHS and CSA students will not be negatively affected by a co-location at this heavily-utilized school building," said Chin in a statement.

But the DOE still must find quarters for the charter school, which applied for a co-location after the private space it had set its sights on fell through.

The department now plans to house the charter in a Hell's Kitchen elementary school at 440 W. 53rd St., noting the building is better equipped to handle the growth.

“The DOE has worked closely with the community over the last several weeks and based on the feedback we’ve received, we are posting a new proposal to co-locate NY Charter School for the Arts in the [West 53rd Street building]," said DOE spokesman Michael Aciman.

"This new plan will better support the needs of each school in the building and ensure all students are receiving a high-quality education."

The founding principal of City Charter said she remained disappointed her school had been received so poorly by UNHS, but that she felt the outcome was for the best and that she is thrilled at the prospect of sharing space in the building.

"We were definitely disappointed the reception was so negative given the vulnerable position that we were in...but we understood where they were coming from and feel this was the best possible outcome for both parties," said City Charter School of the Arts principal Jamie Davidson, adding the school plans to continue seeking private space in the future.

An administrator at the Chelsea school building did not immediately return a request for comment.