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District parent council invites charter parents to their ranks

In a move that could shake up the debate over school space, a mix of charter and district parents is pushing to bring charter school parents into local school districts’ parents councils.

Such a change would mark a significant departure from charter schools’ separation from the traditional school district. It could also change the dynamics of the thorny debate over school space. Last year, a group of community education councils sued the Department of Education for trying to convert a district school into a charter school.

Members of District 1’s Community Education Council said at their meeting last night that they would welcome a charter parent representative onto the board, even though there is no formal mechanism for doing so.

“We consider ourselves representatives of all of the parents in the schools,” council president Lisa Donlan said in an interview today. “It’s really all about building bridges and finding common ground and finding ways to work together.”

The current school governance law does not have a mechanism by which charter school parents may become voting members of the councils. Donlan said that, depending on the preferences of the charter parent who expresses interest in a position, the council would either bring them on as a non-voting member or join them in a fight for a voting position on the committee.

“I do believe they should have a seat at the table in a real way,” she said.

Department of Education spokeswoman Melody Meyer pointed out that this would go against both state law and Chancellor’s Regulations, which do not have a mechanism for including charter parents in district parent committees.

“What makes a charter school a charter school is that they operate outside the jurisdiction of the district,” Meyer said.

Nine members of each council are parents selected by the district schools’ parent associations. The councils also each have two members appointed by the borough president and one student member selected by the district’s superintendent.

The idea of including charter school parents on CECs is not new. During the summer’s debate over school governance, Donlan and other members of a parent group critical of mayoral control proposed that the CECs reserve seats specially for parents of English Language Learners, special education students and charter school students.

The final version of the school governance law did reserve spots on the councils for parents of English Language Learners and special education students but did not mention parents of charter school students.

The CEC also invited the heads of the parent associations of two neighborhood charter schools who attended the meeting, Girls Prep Charter School and Ross Global Academy Charter School, to join the district’s Presidents Council. The Presidents Council consists of the presidents of the parent associations of all of the district schools.

If the charter parents associations heads join, they will be the first charter parents to sit on the District 1 Presidents Council, said Kellie Preyor, who assists District 1’s community superintendent and district family advocate.

Donlan argued that the district councils should have jurisdiction to represent families attending charter schools located within the district, especially since charter schools are now required to give admissions preference to students living within the district.

“These really are our parents,” she said. “If you’re going to have a body that claims to represent everyone, it must have a place for all stakeholders.”

Donlan said that she hoped the inclusion would help smooth conversations among parents about the use of school space by charter schools in the district. “It’s very easy to place the blame on each other, but we really are aligned in our needs in many ways,” she said.

At least one other district, in Queens, has a charter school parent member on the CEC appointed by Queens Borough President Helen Marshall. Donlan said that she had lobbied unsuccessfully for Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer to appoint a charter school parent to the council, and both borough president appointee positions on the council were now taken.

Charter school parent activist Mona Davids was at the District 1 meeting and praised the council for inviting a charter parent into its ranks. The New York City Charter Parents Association, which Davids founded this spring, has made CEC representation for charter school parents one of its primary issues.

“I think it says a lot for parents here in the city — district and charter parents — who’ve been so divided and had such a negative relationship,” Davids said. “I think this is a good first step in bridging that gap.”

But Davids emphasized that she also wants the law governing the CECs to be changed to allow charter school parents to have full voting privileges on the councils. “That would really go a long way to show that we are really part of the community,” she said. “We’re not a stepchild. We’re part of the family.”

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