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Hebrew language charter school drops bid for public space

Just days after a massive protest against a proposed charter school siting at a Brooklyn middle school, the charter school under contention withdrew its request for public space today.

The Hebrew Language Academy Charter School, which the Department of Education had proposed siting inside a middle school in Marine Park, Brooklyn, told school officials today that it no longer wants to be housed in a public school building, DOE spokeswoman Melody Meyer told me. That means that the location under contention, IS 278, is off the table, and the charter school will not be considered for space in any other DOE building, Meyer said.

The news is certain to be well received at IS 278, where a meeting on Tuesday about the proposed charter school drew hundreds of protesters, including Comptroller William Thompson, City Council member Lew Fidler, and Congressman Anthony Weiner. The Web site GerritsenBeach.net covered the event, where angry community members delivered a petition with more than 6,000 signatures to the DOE officials on hand, in detail, with lots of video, including the one posted above.

The Marine Park charter school skirmish cropped up later than most other charter school siting fights because the Hebrew Language Academy, which is the brainchild of philanthropist Michael Steinhardt, had at first said it would secure space on its own. But late last month, the school revealed that it had been unable to find a private location that could accommodate its 150 incoming students in the fall.

Opponents of the charter school plan argued that they had long lobbied the DOE to expand IS 278, which is currently at only about 70 percent capacity, to include high school grades with a performing arts focus. Even without the Hebrew Language Academy in the building, an expansion is not possible because the extra space in the building could not fit four grades that are similar in size to current middle school grades at IS 278, a zoned school, Meyer said.

But she said that the department would work to open a new school in the building for the fall of 2010. That school would likely be a small high school that accepts students through the citywide high school admissions program, she said. “We do hear that the community wants high school grades and we are committed to working with them,” Meyer said.