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Fariña: City ‘looking’ for space for students of evicted Success school

Chancellor Carmen Fariña said Friday that the city wants to find new space for nearly 200 students of a high-performing charter school whose expansion plans she nixed just a week ago.

“One of the things that we’re proposing is that … we’re looking for additional space. We might be able to accommodate the Success Academy,” Fariña said in an interview on Fox 5’s Good Day New York this morning.

Fariña’s comments come eight days after she first announced that a Success middle school in Harlem, called Harlem Central, could not move into a city-owned building next year. The decision set off an avalanche of criticism of Mayor Bill de Blasio that has dominated the news cycle, buoyed by pricey advertising campaigns, a well-organized rally in Albany and support from Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Some of the criticism has also been directed at Fariña, who on Wednesday said that charter schools are “on their own” when it comes to finding space to operate. Fariña walked back the comments in Friday’s interview.

“I shouldn’t have said it,” Fariña said. “And the reality is that I just came out off a meeting … and they stick the mic in your face. But did I mean it? No.”

The reversal represents a partial concession for de Blasio, who pledged to specifically curtail Success’ growth while running for mayor. The city nixed co-location plans for two new Success schools, decisions that Moskowitz has not protested as vehemently.

Fariña still defended the city’s justification for removing Harlem Central, also called Success Academy Harlem 4, from the building it was set to move into next year, saying it wasn’t, as critics have suggested, a political hit on Moskowitz, a longtime rival of de Blasio.

A Success spokeswoman said “we are heartened to hear that the Chancellor has heard the pleas of families who desperately want this high-performing school to continue.”

Fariña said the decision was based on the impact it would have had on a program for students with disabilities, but she misstated its extent. In the Fox 5 appearance, Fariña’s first in-studio sit-down interview, she said that in order to make room for Success students, the city “would have had to displace the kids who are presently there, all of which are high need kids.”

According to the educational impact statement for the building, no students currently in the special education program would have been removed if Success moved in next year. Rather, “future enrollment…will be reduced by placing fewer new students” in the building in subsequent years.

A department official said that the main point from Fariña’s comments are that students with disabilities wouldn’t be affected.

Some legal hurdles remain for the city to propose and approve new space plans for Harlem Success 4 in time for next school year. City regulations require that all significant changes to a building’s utilization be proposed at least six months before the start of the school year in which the plans take effect. It is now less than six months before the start of September, although city law does allow for an emergency provision for instances where the deadline has passed.