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In Harlem, a reignited fight over homes for charter schools

As it tries to find homes for more than 20 new charter schools that are set to open this fall, the city is reigniting concerns about whether charter schools should be given space inside public school buildings.

In recent weeks, the Department of Education has announced that it will allow several charter schools to open inside existing school buildings. Last week, the DOE told Harlem’s PS 241 that it will close and be replaced by a new charter school in the Harlem Success Network, run by the divisive Eva Moskowitz. Some PS 241 backers say the DOE is favoring charter schools rather than trying to improve a low-performing neighborhood school. But charter proponents say that local schools have performed poorly for so long that the DOE is merely responding to parents’ demands by offering space for more charter schools.

PS 241 is the first zoned school the DOE has proposed replacing wholesale with charter schools. (Another charter school moved into the building in 2006.) But the arguments over whether charter schools should be given space in DOE facilities are not new. In fact, Elizabeth reported about a nearly identical situation a year ago, also in Harlem. Just substitute PS 241 for PS 123 in this summary of the politics around the charter school fight:

Ms. Moskowitz brought hundreds of parents to P.S. 123 last night to make the case that adding a new charter school there would improve public education by improving parents’ options. She said 3,500 students have already applied to the three schools she aims to open by September. …

P.S. 123 parents are opposing the education department’s recommendation, arguing that the charter school would be an unwelcome intrusion. …

[PS 123’s PTA president] said she is receiving support from parents around her district, as well as from the teachers union, the NAACP, and several Harlem elected officials, including Assemblyman Keith Wright, state Senator Bill Perkins, and City Council Member Inez Dickens. …

Mr. Wright issued a long statement yesterday decrying Ms. Moskowitz’s effort to place her school in P.S. 123 as divisive and predicting it will fail. “The way to protect our children’s educational opportunity is not by piggybacking off of our already overburdened public school system, nor is it by waging war against the current students and families of P.S. 123, as Mrs. Moskowitz is attempting to do,” Mr. Wright said.

A group of Harlem parents associated with Ms. Moskowitz’s school quickly shot back with their own statement. “I find Keith Wright’s statements to be ignorant, offensive, and alienating towards the community he is supposed to be serving,” one parent, Kyesha Bennett, said. “I expect more.”

We’ll be on hand tonight at PS 194 for a public hearing about the DOE’s plan to locate yet another Harlem Success school in the building. “It’s going to be a big mess,” said Harriet Barnes, president of the parent council for Harlem’s District 5, which opposes housing charter schools inside district school buildings.

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