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For newly-freed charter schools, different paths to dismissal

The three schools released from the UFT and NAACP lawsuit this week followed different paths to legal freedom.

The case for one of the schools relied on a broad base of community support, but a single man, Geoffrey Canada, made the case for the other two schools.

Charter school advocates believe Canada’s profile as a well-regarded, African-American education reformer made him an unpopular target for the NAACP. They say the decision to drop these schools from the lawsuit, which charges that the co-locations give preferential treatment to charter school students, weren’t made on legal merits.

“It makes it pretty clear that it’s not about equity. It’s not about the children,” said Rafiq Kalam Id-Din II, whose new school in Bedford-Stuyvesant is named in the suit. “This is about politics.”

Girls Preparatory Academy was unique from the other 17 schools named in the suit because its co-location plan had already received widespread community support. At the initial public hearing in February, both of the schools’ leaders endorsed co-location, as did Lisa Donlan, the district’s Community Education Council president and a frequent charter school critic.

“There was not one person who opposed this co-location,” Donlan said.

James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center, said popularity isn’t reasonable grounds for dismissal in a case about the city’s legal obligations.

“Suddenly they’re saying we’ll just drop them from the lawsuit because they’re popular?”Merriman said. “It’s just absurd.”

Public hearings in February were more contentious for Canada’s schools, Promise Academy I and II, which he opened as part of Harlem Children’s Zone. Of 39 people to speak, just three people spoke in support of the temporary co-location inside the Harlem Choir Academy. Members of the district’s elected parent council and City Councilwoman Inez Dickens were among those who opposed the plan.

But after the lawsuit was announced, Canada entered talks to broker a settlement. Shortly there after, his schools were dropped from the suit.

Through a spokesman, Canada said Wednesday that he appealed directly to the UFT and NAACP to “look more closely at all the individual co-location proposals, including ours, and they apparently agreed with our position that we were not unfairly burdening the schools with which we were co-locating.”

On Tuesday, UFT lawyer Charles Moerdler said Girls Prep and Canada’s schools “made an effort to try and deal with [district schools] as equals.”

Education officials noted that the changes made at Choir Academy, which gave more cafeteria time to the district schools, were applied to all of the co-location plans named in the lawsuit. The Panel for Educational Policy is set to vote on the plans June 27.

Kalam Id-Din II speculated that the UFT and NAACP were eager to remove Canada from the suit. “He has significant political weight and I’m not sure that the organizations involved in this want to engage with that,” he said.

Hazel Dukes, President of NAACP’s New York State chapter, said she did not know enough about the lawsuit to comment. In a statement, Ben Jealous, CEO of NAACP, welcomed the decision and said he hoped it would lead to resolutions for the other schools still on the lawsuit.

Any expectation that Canada will advocate less now that his schools are no longer named on the lawsuit is misguided, said his spokesman, Marty Lipp.

“Geoff is going to continue to work towards a settlement any way he can because he has always seen the suit as an attack on charter schools in general. So he’s going to continue to work on behalf of everybody involved in the suit,” Lipp said.

On Tuesday, Judge Paul Feinman extended an order to halt co-location plans for now. He will make a final decision in coming weeks.

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