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Dueling lawsuits challenge mayor on boro charters

By Rich Bockmann

The fates of a dozen new schools planned for Queens next year are up in the air as Mayor Bill de Blasio is facing legal challenges to his decision to reverse and continue a number of co-locations approved under the Bloomberg administration.

City Hall made waves late last month when it reviewed proposals approved by the previous administration last year to allow 49 new schools across the city — including more than a dozen charter schools — to share space with public schools when they open next fall.

In Queens, the proposals included new career and technical schools in Long Island City, Queens Village and Cambria Heights as well as two controversial Success Academy charter schools in southeast Queens.

De Blasio campaigned on his criticism of charter schools and pledged to roll back the Bloomberg administration’s support by refusing to offer the institutions rent-free space in city buildings, but his decision last month was more of a compromise than a sea change.

The city reversed course on nine hand-picked proposals — including a Success Academy at August Martin High School and a new public school at Long Island City HS — and allowed the remainder to move forward, a move that seemed to draw criticism from all quarters.

City Councilman Daneek Miller’s (D-St. Albans) district covers IS 59 in Springfield Gardens, where the city is allowing a proposed Success Academy school to go forward, and the Campus Magnet Complex in Cambria Heights where a new career and technical school is slated to open in the fall.

He wrote a letter to the mayor and city Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina expressing his displeasure at the city’s decision to allow the co-location to proceed.

“With specific regard to the issue of charter schools, the lack of educational access for high-risk and disabled students, the marginalization of parents, and the lack of security provided to teachers are alarming,” he wrote. “In particular respect to co-locations, these arrangements force students from different schools to share overworked facilities, pit students in ‘turf war’ rivalries against each other, and have failed to improve individualized classroom instruction.

De Blasio’s move promoted Public Advocate Tish James to proceed with a lawsuit she filed last year moving to block all 49 co-locations.

City Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica), one of the lawsuit’s co-petitioners, said he was pleased the city reversed its decision to place a charter school in the same building as August Martin HS and equally as disappointed the administration was going forward with plans to replace the charter with another co-located school.

“I believe the department’s proposal to co-locate August Martin High School with a third school utilizing the same flawed metrics . . . [is] duplicitous,” he said.

Bob Friedrich, an organizer of the Eastern Queens United civics organization and supporter of the proposed tech-school co-location at Martin Van Buren, said he thought the public advocate had a “one-size-fits-all” approach to co-locations that does not work for his community.

“I would advise her against her lawsuit,” he said. “The local parents have basically avoided Martin Van Buren. Ninety-four percent of the student population comes from outside the community. That is unacceptable.”

Success Academy founder and longtime de Blasio adversary Eva Moskowitz also fired back, filing paperwork with the state Education Department seeking to regain the space two of her charters were promised last year.

Her office could not be reached for additional comment.

The city Department of Education said it was working to find a solution for the parents and students caught in limbo.

“The administration is already taking steps to resolve concerns we have received by some parents,” the department said in a statement. “In our decisions, we set consistent, objective, commonsense standards—most importantly protecting students with disabilities. We remain deeply committed to the rights of all students, and ensuring every child has access to a great education.”

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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