Hundreds of Students’ Charter School Seats in Doubt

February 14, 2014 Updated: October 8, 2018

NEW YORK—Yvonne Guillen was excited that her fifth-grade daughter would continue to go to a charter school next year. But then Bill de Blasio won the mayor’s race.

Guillen planned for her daughter to move from the elementary grades of Girls Prep Bronx Charter School to the middle school grades, which were approved by the Department of Education last fall.

The middle school grades were scheduled to begin co-locating with a public school in the Bronx this summer.

Guillen’s hopes for her daughter continuing her education in a charter school are now in question. De Blasio is less supportive of charter schools than his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg. He promised to stop the co-locations of schools like Girls Prep Bronx and review the practice. A co-location is the process of moving one school into a building where another already operates.

If the mayor puts a freeze on co-locations, Girls Prep Bronx won’t have a space to expand its middle school grades to. It is also uncertain whether the school will open at all. All 43 school co-locations approved by the previous administration last fall are now under review.

There are four charter schools like Girls Prep Bronx in New York City. As children that attended the school for several years move up in grades, all four schools depend on co-locations to expand. As a result, some 200 students are in limbo as the future of their schools remain a blur.

Girls Prep Bronx promised parents that their children can continue there through middle school, but that depends on available space in a public school building, where the additional grades would co-locate.

The Girls Prep Bronx middle school was approved to co-locate with M.S. 301 in the Bronx, which has space since it operates under capacity.

“If the space is not being utilized, why not give it to kids?” Guillen said.

De Blasio said that he is willing to work with charter schools that meet certain standards. He specifically mentioned that they should “mirror the populations of the districts they’re in” for serving English language learners and special needs children.

Of all the Girl Prep Bronx students, 7 percent are English learners and 14 percent are special needs students. That ratio would be unsatisfactory under de Blasio’s requirement. The school shares a building with Luisa Dessus Cruz middle school, which serves a higher ratio of English language learners and special needs students, 23 and 24 percent respectively.

The school is trying to close the gap by distributing recruitment materials in Spanish and promoting its special needs services, according to Josie Carbone, the principal.

Guillen learned there might be a problem with the co-location in December last year, right after the deadline for middle school applications passed. But she is not looking for another school, saying that children are “thriving” in the Girls Prep Bronx and should be allowed the space for the new grades.

“That space was empty to begin with,” she said. “What is the problem?”

The Department of Education (DOE) estimates that even after Girls Prep Bronx moves in and reaches full capacity the building would still be underutilized.

Other Threats

While Girls Prep Bronx middle school doesn’t have an issue with space in the building it moves into, other school’s prospects are threatened by poor utilization plans.

DOE’s utilization plans have been criticized by teachers and principals. According to the critics, the department marked spaces used for specialized programs as vacant or marked inappropriate spaces as classrooms. Also, the department’s enrollment predictions seem to be off by 10 to 20 percent, based on a small sample review.

The co-location plan for Achievement First Apollo charter school estimates that the building it should co-locate into in September will be up to 24 percent over capacity by 2018, when Achievement First Apollo middle school would reach full capacity.

Moreover, Achievement First Apollo serves only 5 percent special needs students and 3 percent English language learners. The school it shares a space with serves a high ratio of special needs students and English language learners, according to InsideSchools.org.

The Achievement First website says the network is “actively recruiting and educating the parents of English Language Learner children”, but the numbers are still nowhere near what de Blasio and the education department would find acceptable.

Parents in Achievement First and Girls Prep participated in a rally on the City Hall steps on Feb. 11, hoping their voices would be heard inside the marble halls.

“I’m going to keep fighting until I can’t anymore,” Yvonne Guillen said. “For what my kid deserves.”

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