The two struggling charter schools that the city plans to close in June aren’t going down without a fight.
Both schools, Fahari Academy Charter School and the Ethical Community Charter School, were told last week that the city would not renew their charters. Now, both say the city has ignored their strengths and are pushing back, with Fahari hinting at possible legal action.
“We will exhaust all options to ensure that this decision is reconsidered and reversed so that we may remain the incredible place of opportunity we have become for our families, staff, and students,” Jason Starr, board chair of the Fahari Academy Charter School, wrote in a four-page statement.
“We ask you to restore our faith in your leadership by visiting our school and revising your renewal decision,” Annette Keane, principal of Ethical Community, wrote in a letter to Chancellor Carmen Fariña.
Fahari’s response in particular underscores an ongoing struggle for the city’s charter school office, which has had trouble closing schools in the past — both when it has tried to not renew an expiring charter, and when it has tried to revoke a charter mid-term. Low-performing schools, or ones in precarious financial positions, have successfully sued to remain open by proving in court that the city’s performance standards were moving targets and poorly communicated.
“The entire procedure utilized by the [charter school office] for revocation is riddled with inconsistencies and lacks a certain level of transparency,” a judge wrote in a 2012 ruling that overturned the city’s decision to close Williamsburg Charter High School.
Peninsula Preparatory Charter School also used the courts to stay open after the city attempted to close it in 2012. Fahari’s board has used the tactic, too, suing to keep the school open last year but withdrawing the lawsuit after Fariña agreed to give the school a one-year reprieve.
The situation has looked different for schools authorized by the State University of New York. Two SUNY-authorized schools set to close at the end of this year, UFT Charter School and Innovate Manhattan Charter School, had boards that voluntarily surrendered their charters (or in UFT’s, the charter for the school’s lower grades), in part because SUNY’s tightly enforced standards left little question that they would be closed.
Following the announcement on Friday, leaders at both Fahari and Ethical Community also criticized the city for giving the schools minimal advance notice that they were facing closure. Jason Starr, Fahari’s board chair, said he was shocked when the city informed the board.
“Neither Fahari’s Board of Trustees nor its administration were given notice of the DOE’s intentions, much less an opportunity to respond before the decision was made,” Starr said.
Keane, principal of Ethical Community, said she found out about 90 minutes before the city made its announcement, leaving her “completely blindsided by the media blitz that ensued.”
“Our families came to school shocked and confused, many in tears, on Friday morning,” Keane wrote in her letter to Fariña. “The Ethical Community Charter School believes it was unfair for you to deny our school the opportunity to share the news of our closure with our own community members.”
On Thursday afternoon, department spokeswoman Devora Kaye acknowledged in an email to reporters that the schools had been notified recently. In response to the schools’ criticism, she told Chalkbeat that the city had communicated the stakes and the timeline for its decisions with the schools.
“This was not a surprise,” Kaye said in a statement. “Each of these schools was given clear conditions with benchmarks for performance they had to meet to demonstrate they were best serving children. Both failed to do so.”
Thursday’s notice triggered a 30-day process, she added, during which each school’s board will get a chance to formally respond to the city’s decision.
Correction: A previous version misstated the Board of Regents’ role in approving the city’s non-renewal decisions. Unlike renewal decisions, no action from the Regents is needed to close charter schools through a non-renewal.