UPDATE: Appeal filed after latest ruling in lawsuit over the fate of a Middle Village charter school

MVP opens
Photo by Anthony Giudice/QNS

UPDATED 4:12 p.m. Sept. 12

Christ the King High School’s (CTK) board of directors is formally appealing a Queens Supreme Court judge’s ruling against them in its lawsuit with the Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens over the fate of Middle Village Preparatory Charter School (MVP), which operates on the high school’s campus.

The case involves a 40-year-old agreement between the diocese and CTK, stating that CTK could form a board of trustees that would manage the school independently from the diocese as the school was on the verge of closing down in the mid-1970s.

In this agreement, however, it was established that CTK could not use the land for anything other than a Catholic high school without the diocese’s permission. The diocese contends that when the CTK board of trustees opened MVP on the CTK campus in 2013, they were in breach of the original contract. CTK had contended the reverter clause had expired a decade ago and it had the ability to use the campus for its own purposes without seeing the diocese’s blessing.

What happens to MVP and its students in the years to come remains unclear. However, a letter sent from MVP’s board chair Josephine Lume to parents and students on Sept. 11 noted that all classes and extracurricular activities will continue as scheduled until further notice.

“MVP had sought permission to ‘intervene’ in the case after the judge ruled in March that CTK was not permitted to lease any of its space to a charter school,” the letter explained. “Our lawyers are reviewing the decision and have advised us that, in their opinion, we have sufficient grounds not only for a stay but also for an eventual reversal of Justice [Marguerite A.] Gray’s decision.”

The diocese sent over court documents to QNS late Monday afternoon, noting that the judge in their case against CTK ruled in favor of the diocese on all counts.

In the court documents it noted that the diocese had previously been open to Catholic high schools opening charter schools on their campuses, with a specific caveat.

“In 2010, another high school in the diocese requested permission to rent part of its facilities to a charter school,” the documents noted, “and the diocese consented provided the high school agreed to pay 40 [percent] of the rent to a trust for the preservation of Catholic education in order to offset a negative impact on Catholic elementary schools which, unlike charter schools, charge tuition.”

CTK also filed for a stay motion — which would suspend the case — but was denied by the court, noting that “CTK was not ordered to convey or deliver any real property to the diocese, and whatever the practical effect of this court’s judgment on MVP, the charter school is not the ‘appellant or moving party.’”

Although the court ruled in favor of the diocese, the court is aware of the problems that would come with the sudden closure of MVP and sending more than 400 middle school students into the already overcrowded District 24.

“However, there is no need for an abrupt closure of MVP because the charter school and CTK have been on notice since on or about March 9, 2017, that this court ruled that ‘Christ the King Regional High School is permanently enjoined from continuing the use of part of its premises for a charter school without the permission of the diocese beginning from the end of the current academic year,’” the documents said. “This gave MVP approximately six months to find alternative facilities, even temporary alternative facilities. Instead, MVP allegedly continued to solicit new students for the 2017-2018 academic year and only sought a stay after the diocese objected to the solicitation.”

Serphin Maltese, vice chair of MVP’s board of trustees and chair of CTK’s board of trustees, is concerned about the affect closing MVP would have, not only on the MVP students, parents and staff, but on all the students on the CTK campus.

“The fact is any disruption to MVP will have consequences far beyond MVP itself. MVP has become, over the last 4 [plus] years, an integral presence on the CTK Campus,” Maltese said in a statement. “Rent from MVP helps fund scholarships and grants for most of the 700 students at CTK. These funds add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars that directly benefit CTK students and their families by keeping the high school tuition affordable for so many hard working people in this area of Queens. In other words, these funds are subsidizing a quality Catholic education. Justice Grays’ decision puts these scholarships and grants in danger of being defunded.”

Maltese also highlighted the “confusion and dislocation” that would result in MVP being forced to find adequate alternative educational facilities in the middle of a school year. He, however, expressed confidence that CTK would find success in its latest appeal.

Although the judge has made her decision, the diocese still wants to work with CTK to keep things running as they are on the high school’s campus.

“The Diocese of Brooklyn remains open to working this out,” said Carolyn Erstad, spokesperson for the Diocese of Brooklyn. “We want to reach a settlement that makes everyone happy.  We hope that Christ the King will abide by the same terms as every other regional high school in the diocese — terms that allow subleasing to charter schools.”

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