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Judge: Charter school slated to close can still admit students

An embattled Brooklyn charter school facing closure will be allowed to continue registering new students for the 2012-2013 school year for at least the next couple weeks, a judged ruled this afternoon.

Even though the city wants it closed, Williamsburg Charter High School has already registered 60 students for next year, the school’s lawyer, Ellen Eagen, said at a New York State Supreme Court hearing today. The hearing was to determine whether or not to extend a temporary restraining order against the Department of Education’s plans to close the school.

The temporary restraining order allowed the school to hold a lottery on April 30 and begin formally accepting students who have been selected. Had the restraining order expired, the school would not have been able to register any more of the 200 students who applied.

Eagen argued in court that the extension was crucial to the school’s recruiting and admission efforts for next year in the event that the school receives a favorable ruling and is allowed to stay open. If the school stayed open, it would need to enroll at least 200 students to come close to full capacity compared to previous cohorts.

Last month, Chancellor Dennis Walcott upheld an earlier decision to terminate the charter of Williamsburg Charter High School at the end of the school year. The decision was based on the school’s prolonged affiliation with the Believe network and its former founder and CEO, Eddie Calderon-Melendez. Calderon-Melendez was indicted last month for personal tax evasion, falsifying documents and using company money to finance a personal trip to Europe. The school is $5 million in debt in part because of the network’s financial improprieties.
The school would be the largest charter school to shut its doors and about 900 students will have to find spots in different high schools for the fall.
Already, there are signs that the continued uncertainty surrounding the school’s status is taking its toll. Nine students have fled the school in the last month, Eagen said. They have enrolled at nearby Williamsburg Preparatory High School, which has made new seats available to the charter students in anticipation of the closure.

Five teachers have also said they plan to leave the school at the end of the year, Eagen said.

Dozens of supporters for the school packed the benches and the jury box for the two-hour hearing but they left with few answers. After conferring behind closed doors for more than 30 minutes at the end, New York State Supreme Court Judge Ellen Spodek and lawyers for both sides emerged with no resolution and told everyone to leave. The sides met again this afternoon – joined by Recy Dunn, head of the city’s charter school office – and agreed to extend the restraining order.

Walcott has asked that the school to cooperate and help the students find new school options. A lawyer for the DOE repeated Walcott’s request in court today, asking the judge to carve out an exception in the restraining order to allow DOE officials to host information sessions for parents interested in transferring. Eagen initially balked but agreed as long as students were not directed to register at any other schools.

At the hearing, few parents were willing to even consider such an option.

“We don’t want to go to any school other than this one,” said Sandra Guillermo.

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