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Landscape shifts slightly in Lower East Side space fight

The city is re-shuffling a set of contentious proposals that would ask Lower East Side district schools to give up classroom space to make room for an expanding charter school.

Last month, the city presented three proposals to accommodate the growth of Girls Prep Charter School to parents at a heated district parents’ council meeting. The options drew the ire of many parents at nearby district schools because each proposal would require schools to give up classrooms and resource space.

Today, Debra Kurshan, the head of the DOE’s Office of Portfolio Planning, announced that the city has removed one of the three options from consideration entirely.

The discarded proposal would have moved P.S. 94, a school for students with autism, out of the building they currently share with Girls Prep and P.S. 188, a district school. A new program for disabled students would then have been opened in the building currently occupied solely by P.S. 184, the well-regarded dual-language Shuang Wen school.

In a letter sent to Shaung Wen’s principal and school leadership team, Kirshan said the city would not place any new program in their building for the coming school year.

Two proposals remain officially on the table. In one, the Girls Prep middle school would share space with another district school, P.S. 20. In the second, a middle school, the School for Global Leaders, would share P.S. 20’s building and Girls Prep would move into the School for Global Leaders’ current classrooms.

But Girls Prep executive director Miriam Lewis Raccah said today that she and the principal of P.S. 94, Ronnie Shuster, are working on a new fourth proposal they hope will diffuse conflict with neighboring district schools.

“[W]e have met and are working together to develop a plan that would meet the needs of P94 and Girls Prep in the P.S. 188 building,” Shuster and Raccah wrote in a message to members of District 1’s Community Education Council this evening. “The plan we are working on will not affect the configuration of P.S. 188 classrooms….We are excited to be able to continue our collaboration in the P.S. 188 campus building and hope that we will be able to maintain model programs for all three schools.”

Raccah said this evening that the plan she and Shuster are developing would allow Girls Prep to expand in their current building and would decrease the amount of space used by P.S. 94. But she said P.S. 94 would keep enough space to maintain their small classes and specialized programs for students with autism.

It’s unclear whether a plan that involves reducing the space available to P.S. 94 students will be accepted by parents at the school. The president of P.S. 94’s parent’s association, Jessica Santos, said the school’s students have been moved around the P.S. 188 campus five times in recent years, and that the school needs all of the space it currently occupies for specialized therapy for the students.

“I personally feel that it’s time for us to stop moving,” she said.

Santos was joined by parents from P.S. 20, P.S. 188 and the Shuang Wen school, as well as State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and City Councilwoman Rosie Mendez, at a meeting this afternoon to officially announce their opposition to all plans that would reduce space at district schools to allow Girls Prep to expand.

“Our parents and our educators have worked too hard for too long building up these thriving schools for the Department of Education to tear them down,” Silver said.

UPDATE: This post has been updated to correct the spelling of Debra Kurshan’s name.

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