UPDATED MAY 24, 2:40 p.m.
Parents and students of a charter school on the Christ the King High School Campus (CTK) in Middle Village got a small victory on May 23 in its battle with the Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens, which is trying to close the charter school down over a contractual dispute.
Middle Village Preparatory Charter School (MVP) was founded in 2013 and has received statewide recognition for its academic achievements. Earlier this month, however, lawyers for the diocese alerted administrators of MVP that it should not recruit students for the upcoming school year because they must vacate the building at the end of this school year.
A judge on May 23 granted MVP a temporary stay. This means that no action can be taken to shut down the school until oral arguments are heard on June 13.
“Our parents are hopeful and also angry,” said Robert Bellafoire, spokesperson for MVP. “They’re hopeful that the diocese will see that holding 400 school kids hostage over a piece of real estate is not a good idea and that they’ll drop the suit.”
Though a dispute that occurred between the diocese and CTK 40 years ago allowed a parent board to effectively take over operations at the Catholic school, a contract was signed to restrict the school’s use to “customary and usual to a Catholic high school,” Steve Adams, legal counsel for MVP said.
The diocese is arguing that the charter school is not “customary and usual” but parents who packed a May 17 meeting at the CTK Campus about the lawsuit said this is an attempt at a money grab.
Delvis Valdes, whose two daughters attend MVP, suggested that parents use their money to send a message to the diocese.
“We have to galvanize now,” he said. “Everybody here belongs to a parish and I know that in my parish they give a pledge donation to the arch diocese. Perhaps if [through] our individual parishes we start writing the bishop and start explaining that we’re going to start withholding our tidings, our gifts, our offerings at the Sunday collection, it might go through the bishop’s head.”
Annette Mendoza, the treasurer for the Parent Teacher Association at the school, suggested that parents and students write letters to the diocese outlining why the school closure would negatively impact the 380 students currently enrolled and the 250 students on a waiting list.
Claudia Valdes, wife of Delvis Valdes, called the diocese’s actions “greedy and spiteful.” She offered to help start a grassroots campaign and suggested parents coordinate “an ongoing, systematic, well-thought-out process to bring them to their knees.”
Students also asked what they could do to participate in the effort, and one mother got emotional when describing the impact that teachers at MVP had on her seventh-grade daughter, Bianca Mercado.
“I’m sorry. I’m getting very emotional,” said Monique Gonzalez. “I don’t want this school to close because she was very shy in school, very intelligent. She has blossomed and she’s doing so well, but she’s getting stressed out because of this and we want to do whatever we have to do. We want to fight, we want to scream, we want to yell, we want this school to stay.”
After the meeting, parents huddled together in the auditorium to exchange emails and phone numbers and to talk strategy. They plan to form a Parent Action Team, just as parents at CTK did 40 years ago, and suggested picketing Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio’s house in Brooklyn, leveraging social media, garnering support from CTK staff and students and reaching out to elected officials for support.
According to Serphin Maltese, vice-chair of MVP’s board, the school will have more clarification within the next 10 days after lawyers file an appeal.
“We are absolutely invested in the success of MVP,” said Josephine Lume, chairperson of the school’s board. “We have been for many, many years so we have legal representation and we can commit to you that we are as committed as you are, if not more, to do the right thing, continue the education for our children and do everything possible that we need to do to save the school.”