Appeal filed to block Downtown high school’s co-location

BY SAM SPOKONY  |  Opponents of a proposed co-location at a Lower East Side high school have filed an appeal to the city’s Board of Education in an attempt to stop it.

The city’s Department of Education proposed in August to move a new high school (designated 01M203) in the 200 Monroe St. building currently occupied by University Neighborhood High School.

Although the D.O.E.’s Panel for Education Policy voted in October to approve the co-location, the plan has, from the beginning, faced strong opposition from U.N.H.S. staff and parents, as well as the District 1 Community Education Council and local elected officials.

Opponents say that the building does not have the physical space or resources to support a co-location, especially because the new high school, whose final name appears yet to be determined, will be a Career and Technical Education school.

These C.T.E. schools combine typical academic study with programs that teach workforce skills in specific career areas, and thus generally require additional, specialized educational resources.

“This is not a facility that lends itself to sharing space, and it just doesn’t have the infrastructure to support two schools,” said Lisa Donlan, president of the District 1 C.E.C. “We’re not opposed to the existence of the new school, but we really just don’t think this is the right co-location.”

She cited various elements to support her belief, including the fact that the Neighborhood school has no gymnasium, auditorium or cafeteria. Students currently use the school’s lobby for all of those purposes. In addition, the school currently enrolls around 250 students — a volume that already crowds the building’s hallways — while the new public school would add an estimated 500 students to the same space.

Before an actual State Supreme Court lawsuit can be filed against the co-location, opponents must file an appeal to the Board of Education, the governing body of the D.O.E.

If that appeal to stop the co-location is denied, then a lawsuit can commence.

Arthur Schwartz, a local Democratic District Leader and civil rights lawyer, filed an appeal to the B.O.E. on Nov. 14, seeking to stop the co-location, and said that if the appeal is denied he will move forward with a state lawsuit.

“The [U.N.H.S.] faculty, administrators and students are all united on this issue,” Schwartz said in a phone interview. “It’s simply not a well thought out plan by D.O.E.”

Officially, the appeal filed by Schwartz lists Councilmember Margaret Chin, a U.N.H.S. parent and a U.N.H.S. student as the petitioners against the plan.

“This co-location would rob students of their right to an enriched and meaningful educational experience, and we will continue to fight it every step of the way,” Chin said in a prepared statement to Downtown Express.

Previously, Chin held a rally against the plan in August, and testified twice against the proposal before it was approved.

D.O.E. declined to comment on the appeal filed against the co-location, since the legal action is still pending.

Schwartz also said that he plans to file a federal lawsuit against the D.O.E., on the grounds that the proposed U.N.H.S. co-location violates the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

According to the most recent D.O.E. statistics, 28 percent of the U.N.H.S. student population is classified, under the disabilities act, as requiring special education services. U.N.H.S. currently enrolls seven disabled students who require the use of a wheelchair.

The school only has one elevator for those students to use, and it can only hold one wheelchair at a time.

“It’s clear that the proposed co-location will make it impossible to provide the space and resources needed for disabled students,” said Schwartz.

D.O.E.’s proposed co-location at U.N.H.S. may have originally been planned to include a charter school in that building, rather than a public high school, according to the opponents.

“My understanding was that the new public school high school was originally planned to be co-located with Murry Bergtraum [High School],” said Donlan, adding that she and many others familiar with the situation believe that those original plans would have put a Success Academy charter school in co-location with U.N.H.S.

The reverse is true now, since a current D.O.E. proposal calls for the co-location of a Success school in Murry Bergtraum.

“Whatever happened between D.O.E. and Success Academy on that issue was not done transparently,” said Donlan, who explained that D.O.E. representatives have never fully answered her questions.

“Eva [Moskowitz, founder and C.E.O. of Success Academy] was told that D.O.E. wanted to co-locate her at U.N.H.S., and then she looked at the building and said it was inadequate,” Schwartz said. “So D.O.E. let her choose Murry Bergtraum instead, just to make her happy.”

A D.O.E. spokesperson declined to comment on a possible offer to Success, citing the pending legal action against the U.N.H.S. co-location.

A Success Academy spokesperson at first denied the claim outright, but later acknowledged that the charter may in fact have had an opportunity to see U.N.H.S. and other possible co-location sites before any formal D.O.E. proposal was made.

Success Academy representatives were “shown spaces” in order to see what the facilities were, and so that the reps could “see why one was good or better than the others,” the spokesperson said.

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