Parents group hopes to stop charter invasion

Parents from a Coney Island public school are appealing the city’s decision to cram a growing charter school into their West Avenue facility, which they say is already overcrowded.

The city’s Panel for Education Policy voted in April to house Coney Island Prep and its 370 students inside the building that already houses both IS 303 and Rachel Carson HS, but the Parents Association of IS 303 say they are lawyering-up to fight the change.

“This plan is disrupting all the schools involved,” said Chris Owens, of Advocates for Justice, which is working for the parents pro bono to appeal to the State Education Commission.

So far, the school’s staff is not appealing with the parents and IS 303 Principal Gary Ingrassia did not return calls for comment.

At the heart of the parents’ concerns is that the school will lose its self-containment classes, a program that keeps students in their home room throughout the day instead of moving from classroom to classroom like most junior high school kids. The school’s parents and staff say that the arrangement paved the way for the once-floundering school to earn As and Bs on its progress reports last year.

The public school’s advocates fear that the program won’t survive even as the city insists that the addition of the charter won’t jeopardize the program.

“The city hasn’t been fair to us from the beginning,” said PTA President Julia Danlely.

IS 303 parents aren’t the only group fighting a city-placed charter school. The United Federation of Teachers filed a lawsuit against the city last Wednesday to overturn its February and March charter school placement decisions. Like the IS 303 parents, the union says that the public schools are too full to absorb the charters. The lawsuit doesn’t include charter placement decisions rendered in April, but IS 303 supporters say that their case is similar.

“This suit can set a precedence for our case,” said Assemblyman William Colton (D–Bensonhurst), who is against the charter school move.

The parents have until May 27 to submit their appeal, after which the state could order the city to scrap its charter placement plan. But Owens admitted that the appeal has a slim chance for success.

“The overall system is designed for these co-locations to move forward,” said Owens, who is the son of former Rep. Major Owens (D–Flatbush.) And even when the state does support an appeal, a public school may still get a charter. For instance, State Education Commissioner David Steiner had put the kibosh on an earlier version of a plan to stuff an unwanted charter into the building housing PS 9 and MS 571 on Underhill Avenue, forcing the city to come up with a new proposal to show how the three schools could be successful under one roof. The Panel for Education Policy approved the charter’s placement last Wednesday.

The city has insisted since February that IS 303 can hold about 600 more students, though Coney Island Prep would only bring 370 middle school kids over the next two years. New schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said at an April 14 meeting that he supported the move and Councilman Domenic Recchia (D–Coney Island) said that the charter needs a new home because it outgrew its space inside the Carey Gardens Community Center.

“We have to learn to live together and help one another out when there’s a problem,” Recchia said at an April 4 hearing at Abraham Lincoln HS on Ocean Parkway.

Coney Island Prep Principal Jacob Mnookin declined to comment on the appeal, but said that he has good relationships with the IS 303 Principal Gary Ingrassia. “We’re trying to figure out how we can share the space and make it work,” Mnookin said.

More from Around New York