A group of parents is sharply criticizing the Department of Education for backing away from its decision to shut down struggling neighborhood elementary schools, saying Mayor Bloomberg should “take a hard line” and turn over the buildings to be used as charter schools.

The parents, who are zoned to have their children attend two of the schools that would have been closed and replaced with charter schools, said that they want the mayor to shut the schools down because the schools are dirty, dangerous, and filled with teachers who are “just there for a paycheck.”

“I live across the street from 194,” one mother, Melissia Daley, wrote of P.S. 194, a Harlem elementary school that would have been closed under the city’s original plan. “Although it’s a zoned school and very convenient for me and my child, I wouldn’t even try to put my child in there because the children are well behind in grade.”

“If they are closing 241 to put a better school in its place, then they should do that,” one parent, Martinique Owens, said, of another Harlem school, P.S. 241, in a similar situation.

Their statements came in a press release issued this afternoon by a spokeswoman for the Harlem Success Academy network of charter schools, Jenny Sedlis. Two Harlem Success schools were planning to become the sole occupants of the P.S. 194 and P.S. 241 buildings after those schools closed. Those schools will have to continue sharing space with district elementary schools next year.

Representatives of the Harlem Success network called parents registered for next week’s admission lottery, told them that the charter schools were being threatened by government action, and asked them to attend a meeting today about the conflict, according to Cherokee Rivero, a mother who has entered her son in the lottery that determines who gets into Harlem Success.

Rivero estimated that about 40 parents turned out for the meeting, where they wrote short statements about why they didn’t want their children to attend their zoned school. “If it takes me to write this letter to get something better for my son, then I will,” Rivero, who attended PS 194 herself from 1994 to 2000, told me tonight.

The release attacks the teachers union for filing a lawsuit opposing the DOE’s plan to replace the two elementary schools with charter schools. The lawsuit was initiated by the United Federation of Teachers and the New York Civil Liberties Union. Its plaintiffs included several community members not otherwise associated with the union, as well as the union’s president, Randi Weingarten. The union and parents alleged that the DOE’s bid to replace the schools represented an illegal alteration of school zone lines.

“Does Randi Weingarten think she knows better than me what is best for my child? The school is broken and I don’t want to send my child there. Why does she think she can speak for me?” a mother named Melissa Anderson, whose child is zoned for P.S. 241, said in a statement.

Weingarten responded today in an interview with Elizabeth, accusing the founder of Harlem Success, the former City Council member Eva Moskowitz, of devolving into personal attack. Moskowitz took on labor unions in council hearings, and then lost a run for Manhattan borough president after Weingarten’s union organized against her. “Let her run great schools and do great things for kids, and let me do great things for kids,” Weingarten said. “But this nonsense that the only way to elevate herself is to bring other people down: she should be above that.”

The entire press release is after the jump:

Harlem Parents to Mayor Bloomberg: Get Real, Close These Failing Schools!

NEW YORK, NY – April 2, 2009 – More than 175 parents of students in the attendance area of two failing Harlem schools demanded today that the schools be shut down by Mayor Bloomberg.

“My son attends P.S. 194. He comes home unhappy everyday. P.S. 194 has taken his joy,” said Janet Walker, mom of Nasir. “I want a new chance for him to get his joy back. He deserves a better education.”

The parents, whose children are zoned to attend P.S. 241 and P.S. 194 came to several meetings at Harlem Success Academy to talk about how to keep their kids from having to attend the two failing schools.

Both failing schools have been targeted by the Department of Education for closure, but the move has been opposed by the powerful United Federation of Teachers, which filed a lawsuit to protect employees at the unpopular public schools. In addition to demanding action from Mayor Bloomberg, the parents argued that the UFT does not represent their interests, calling it shameful that the union would so blatantly attempt to keep children in substandard academic environments just to save teacher jobs.

“Does Randi Weingarten think she knows better than me what is best for my child? The school is broken and I don’t want to send my child there. Why does she think she can speak for me?” said Melissa Anderson, mother of a child zoned for P.S. 241.

The parents took aim at attempts by the UFT to pretend it was speaking for parents in the name of “saving public education” when all the union was doing was driving families to have to pay for private schools for their children.

“I’m tired of these special interests claiming they represent me. Did the teachers union ask me if P.S. 241 should close? If they asked me, I would have said, yes, absolutely” said the mom of Emanuel Agbavitor, a first grader at P.S. 241. “I never get to see my child’s teacher, I don’t know how he’s doing in school and they don’t return my phone calls.”

Parents said if Mayor Bloomberg wants to be known as the education mayor, he can’t pander to the teachers union and must take a hard line against failure.

“The teachers union is trying to prevent a bad school from closing and me from sending my child to the school of my choice,” said Thiong Sall, mother of two children zoned for P.S. 241. “Mayor Bloomberg should not listen to the union and should instead listen to parents like me.”

“I live across the street from 194 and although it’s a zoned school and very convenient for me, I wouldn’t put my child in there because the children are well behind,” said Melissa Haley. “I used to attend 194. I would prefer a school where it is not only clean which 194 isn’t, but also where there are teachers that are willing to see children get not 65% but 100%.”

“I feel good about them closing 194. Teachers are there just for a paycheck, not to help kids learn,” said Shamecca Davis, mother of Tytiana. “Children beat each other up and there are not enough supervisors.”

“If by closing P.S. 241 they can put something better in its place then it should definitely close,” said Martinique Owens, mother of a kindergartner zoned for P.S. 241.

“The school is not good. I had my oldest son in that school. The teachers yell at the students and don’t pay enough attention to the parents and students. I pulled my older son out and I will not send my younger one there” said Octavio Maldonado, parent of two children zoned for P.S. 241.