Two weeks before the city’s school board is set to vote on a slate of controversial school changes, the Department of Education has relocated the meeting from Midtown Manhattan to central Queens.
Instead of taking place at the High School of Fashion Industries, the Dec. 14 Panel for Educational Policy meeting is now set for Newtown High School in Elmhurst, Queens, about eight miles away. On the agenda: proposals to expand schools in the Bronx and Manhattan and to co-locate charter schools in three different Brooklyn buildings.
A public hearing this week for one of those co-locations, the siting of a new Success Academy charter school in Cobble Hill, drew nearly five hours of heated testimony.
Critics of the department charge that the move was intended to squelch public comment. They’re asking the city to move the meeting again, to a location nearer to schools that would be affected by the panel’s votes.
But DOE officials said the change happened learned that construction underway on Fashion Industries’ auditorium would not be complete before Dec. 14. They said they picked Newtown as a replacement because it is near public transportation and has an adequate auditorium that was not already booked.
They also said the department tries to distribute panel meetings across the city throughout the year, and the previous schedule had four meetings in Manhattan, five in Brooklyn, two in the Bronx, and only one each in Queens and Staten Island.
Last year, the panel held five meetings in Manhattan and seven in Brooklyn, including five at Brooklyn Technical High School, whose large auditorium could accommodate large crowds when the panel was voting on controversial proposals. The panel met once each in Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx.
The previous year, the DOE relocated a meeting when the panel was scheduled to vote on school closures and co-locations from Staten Island to Brooklyn Tech. (That meeting lasted until 4 a.m.)
After today’s announcement, the activist group New York Collective of Radical Educators is asking the DOE to make the same move again. Justin Wedes, a NYCORE member and former teacher, launched an online petition that already has nearly 200 signatures.
“Considering that all of the proposals on the agenda for this meeting directly affect school communities in these boroughs —especially the proposed co-locations in Brooklyn — we DEMAND that the meeting be returned to Brooklyn Technical HS in downtown Brooklyn,” the petition’s online introduction reads.
Also today, the department announced that the panel would vote on four charter school co-locations and two district school relocations at its next meeting. That meeting is set for Jan. 18 at Brooklyn Tech.