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November 27, 2020
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Update: Lawsuit Against Charter School

By Lisa M. Collins
4
Suit filed to prevent Eva Moskowitz (above) from moving her Success Academy Charter School to Court Street.

On Wednesday a public interest law firm called Advocates for Justice filed a lawsuit in N.Y. Supreme Court on behalf of 15 parents challenging the legality of Success Academy Cobble Hill moving into the school building at 284 Baltic, on Court Street, next to Cobble Hill Cinemas.

The lead attorney, Arthur Schwartz, has filed other suits against the DOE and Success Academy, and tried to prevent the chain of academically-rigorous public SUNY charter schools from entering the Brandeis High School complex on the Upper West Side. The suit was unsuccessful. Schwartz is also leading a suit against DOE, in an attempt to knock down the city’s policy of leasing school space to charter schools for $1 per year.

“This fight is not a fight about charter schools. It is about charter schools living by the rules,” Schwartz said in a statement (read the lawsuit).

Parents in Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens have been flooded with flyers advertising the new school. Kids are accepted by lottery, with a preference for kids in District 15 and kids from failing schools. According to Kerri Lyons, spokeswoman for Success Academy, the school has received more than 200 applications from District 15 for 190 kindergarten and first grade seats slated to open in September 2012. The school is approved at 284 Baltic through the fourth grade and said it hopes to expand to the 8th grade.

Opponents of Success Academy Cobble Hill involved in the suit say it is targeting upper class brownstone dwellers and will hurt neighborhood schools. Yet parents from the Gowanus Houses say they are also flooded with flyers and mailers advertising the school.

“They’ve been sending me flyers in the mail every week,” said Desiree Sabater, a mother of three who lives in the Gowanus Houses, a publicly-subsidized housing project at Hoyt and Warren streets. Sabater’s two eldest kids attend PS 32 in Carroll Gardens on Hoyt and President.

“I’m constantly getting things in the mail. They must really want me to move to a charter school,” Sabater said.

The lawsuit, backed by the United Federation of Teachers, according to Gotham Schools, argues that Success Academy cannot legally move into District 15 (which encompasses Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens and Red Hook), because it’s original request to SUNY proposed a school in District 13 or 14.

Cynthia Proctor, spokeswoman for the SUNY Charter Schools Institute, which has chartered 81 schools in NYC and is one of the largest chartering authorities in the nation, told South Brooklyn Post that the state university has the authority to approve such a move between districts in a borough. The move was approved in January.

But the lawsuit quotes state law stating that for charter schools to move districts, they must apply to change their charter and give the new district 45 days notice.

Jim Devor, head of the Community Education Council for District 15, says his organization has not joined the lawsuit but agrees the charter school should not be allowed into 284 Baltic, which currently houses three other schools: the School for Global Studies and the School for International Studies, each small schools from the 8th grade to the 12th grade, serving mostly low-income students from around Brooklyn, and a small public program for kids with autism and varying levels of disabilities, from mild to severe.

“In particular, we are especially troubled by the ‘bait and switch’ of chartering the school in Districts 13 and/or 14 with a self described mission of targeting “at risk children” and then locating the school in Brownstone Brooklyn,” Devor said in a statement.

Parents at a Wednesday press conference in front of the school said they didn’t understand why their high school children should have to suffer larger class sizes and reduced access to the gymnasium and other facilities caused by the influx of 200 or so kindergartners and first-graders beginning this September.

“My son should not lose out on valuable space and opportunities, just because the Success Charter Network does not play by the rules,” said Colleen Mingo, a parent at the School for International Studies.

For many of the advocates and activists involved in the very passionate fight against charter schools and Success Academy Charter school in particular in New York City, the war boils down to a tug-of-war for resources. Public schools, whether they are charter, and overseen by the state, or DOE, and overseen by the city, get education dollars based on their student populations. So when schools lose kids to charter schools, they lose the state tax dollars that follow those kids. Also, charter schools do not hire union teachers.

The city, under Bloomberg, has supported the boom in charter schools, which educate mostly minority, low-income kids. Eva Moskowitz, who runs Success Academy Charter School, is attempting to reach the middle-class NYC population by moving into the Upper West Side, Williamsburg and Cobble Hill. Her schools are some of the top academically performing schools in the state of New York. They rely on private fundraising to augment the tax dollars they receive for students and facilities. One could imagine that she’s trying to tap into the fund-raising potential in Carroll Gardens/Cobble Hill.

Meanwhile, DOE is shutting down schools it deems as failing.

“I think the DOE has given up on educating children. By their own admission, it’s something they are incompetent in doing, or less competent than educational entrepreneurs. So they’d rather contract it out (to non-profit charters). I think it’ nuts but that’s basically what they are saying,” Devor said.

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