Public Advocate Careful in Departing From Administration on Co-Locations

March 5, 2014 7:29 pm Last Updated: March 6, 2014 7:24 am

NEW YORK—New York City Public Advocate Letitia “Tisch” James is cautiously continuing with a lawsuit against school co-locations.

The co-locations were approved near the end of the last administration’s term and reapproved by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration last week. The city’s Department of Education rejected nine of the co-locations, and approved 40 of them, using newly established criteria.

Co-location is the practice of moving a school into a building where another school already operates.

An ally of de Blasio’s, James is balancing a delicate equilibrium with unhappy parents set on continuing the lawsuit on one side, and on the other, the new administration’s decision. Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said at the time of the decisions, “We were deliberate in our decisions and, under the circumstances we inherited, believe this is the best approach.”

Three parent organizations and five city council members filed the lawsuit on Dec. 27 last year. Among them was Melissa Mark-Viverito, now council speaker, and James, who was at that time council member and public advocate-elect.

This Saturday James will meet with parents and teachers from schools and communities that stand to be impacted by the co-locations, as well as some of the plaintiffs.

“This meeting will inform our decision on whether or not to proceed with the ongoing lawsuit,” she said in a short statement released Wednesday.

Lack of Consultation

At least one of the other plaintiffs is already clear on how to proceed.

“Parents came out, they spoke out, they opposed the co-locations,” said Mona Davids, president of the New York City Parents Union. “Those co-locations actually must be reversed.”

The lawsuit states the city’s Department of Education (DOE) approved the co-locations “contrary to the strongly expressed views of the parent, student, and professional community in each school.” Therefore the department “followed the formalities required by the State Education law, but ignored the spirit and the intent of the law.”

According to Davids, when reviewing the approved co-locations, the DOE never called the affected school principals, let alone send someone to check on how much available space the schools actually have.

“DOE never went to any of those schools. That’s the crazy part,” she said.

Davids called the review process nontransparent, as the administration didn’t consult or contact the affected communities.

The schools department released a set of four criteria it used to review the co-locations. First, elementary schools can no longer be co-located inside high-school buildings. Second, the department will no longer approve small schools with less than 250 students, since they have limited capacity to serve students. Third, co-locations that require extensive construction received increased scrutiny. And lastly, the department would not approve co-locations that reduce space for special education students.

Overcrowding, one of the most common concerns voiced by parents and teachers, was not among the criteria.