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A charter school moves again, reigniting a marathon space fight

Parents, teachers, and children crowded an East Harlem school auditorium last night for what has become a familiar scene: a shouting match between charter school advocates and defenders of a neighborhood school wary of sharing its space.

The latest showdown took place at PS 30, a neighborhood school near Manhattan’s eastern shore where the Department of Education has proposed moving Harlem Success Academy II. HSA II would vacate its space at PS 123, where opposition to the charter school run by Eva Moskowitz had been fierce. PS 30 will not see an enrollment drop because of the plan, the DOE has said, although a small school located in the building, KAPPA II, is set to start phasing out this fall.

The Panel for Educational Policy is scheduled to vote on the proposal to move HSA II to PS 30 tomorrow.

Last night, the walls of PS 30’s auditorium were plastered with posters opposing the plan, some reading “Harlem Success Academy Go Away.” Teachers and parents made the posters during a series of planning meetings, according to Brian Jones, PS 30’s drama teacher, who with the aid of union activists in the Grassroots Education Movement, has helped lead the organizing effort at the school. Testifying at the meeting, Jones sounded a frequently-heard note, arguing that unlike some schools the DOE has made to share space, PS 30 is doing well academically.

Harlem Success supporters, who included not only parents and students but also siblings, wore bright orange T-shirts and filled about two-thirds of the auditorium.

Tension ran high all evening, with members of each group loudly interrupting speakers representing the other. Emotions peaked during the testimony of Carlton Berkley, a local figure who said he has family members at both HSA II and PS 30. When Berkley’s denunciation of what he called privatization in public schools exceeded his allotted two minutes, another PS 30 supporter ceded his time to Berkley. The resulting outcry stopped proceedings for several minutes. Later, the meeting’s facilitator announced no one else would be permitted to cede time to others.

Some in attendance tried to calm the crowd down. “There is nothing more important to teach our children than the importance of agreeing to disagree,” said Denise Gordon, the DOE’s district family advocate for District 5.

And yet just before the hearing ended, the fight moved to the sidewalk along Lexington Avenue. A mother from HSA II forcefully made her case to a PS 30 teacher who was leaving the school with a large packet of papers in hand. The teacher appeared to consider the mother’s argument. Then she said, “But it’s true that we don’t get the support we need,” and the pair moved toward the subway.