School is in: Judge’s ruling allows charter school’s move into PS 114

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A judge has allowed the city’s to house 15 privately run charter schools inside public school buildings last week, removing the last hurdle keeping the Explore Excel Charter school from opening inside a century-old Canarsie schoolhouse.

State Supreme Court Judge Paul G. Feinman said the injunction, filed by the United Federation of Teachers and NAACP in May, lacked merit, and he wouldn’t stop the city from moving forward with its plans to place charter schools, which are funded with tax dollars but run by companies working outside the Department of Education, within public schools. In the same decision, Feinman also allowed the city to close 22 poor-performing schools throughout the five boroughs.

The decision, rendered on July 21, has cleared the path for Excel to open inside PS 114 on Remsen Avenue near Farragut Road.

More than 200 students are enrolled in Excel’s freshman class, but the lawsuit left them in limbo: parents went into the summer not knowing where their children would go to school in September.

Morty Ballen, founder of the Explore Charter School, said he was thrilled by Judge Feinman’s ruling.

“Excel Charter was designed specifically to serve the Canarsie community in the 114 catchment area,” Ballen said. “[The judge’s ruling] enables us to build on the momentum we’ve maintained and open a great school to serve our students.”

Citing poor test scores, the city wanted to completely replace PS 114 with a charter school. But widespread protests from parents, teachers, and civic leaders forced the city agreed to retain the existing PS 114, as long as the Explore Excel Charter School was allowed to move in.

Everyone agreed to the compromise, except for the United Federation of Teachers. In its lawsuit, the teacher’s union claimed that the city was discriminating against PS 114 by allowing Explore Excel students to use common areas like the gym and playground for longer periods of time even though the charter school’s enrollment makes up just one-third of the building’s student body.

Some PS 114 parents agreed with those claims.

“We’re burdened with having to share our building and resources with Explore Charter kids,” said James Orr. “I’m not against charter schools, I’m just against a charter school coming in and sharing a building with my kid’s school — and diminishing my child’s eduction.”

The United Federation of Teachers said they will continue with other aspects of the lawsuit, but admitted that none of the remaining claims will keep the city from opening a charter school in PS 114.

“Judge Feinman has declined our request for an injunction, but his decision does not affect the underlying issues of fairness and due process,” explained Dick Riley, a spokesman for the teachers’ union.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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