I.S. 303 parents continue their battle
by Heather J. Chin
Home Report and Sunset News
The Brooklyn Spectator
May 27, 2011
When Julia Daniely said, “This is just the beginning” and “This isn’t over,” she meant it.
Daniely, the PTA president at I.S. 303 — which serves students in Coney Island and Gravesend — and fellow parents are following through on plans to appeal the city’s decision to move a nearby charter school into the same building on West Avenue, off Ocean Parkway, that houses their children as well as those at Rachel Carson High School.
Around 100 parents have signed on as petitioners in the appeal to the State Education Commission, which was filed on Friday, May 27, by attorney Chris Owens* of the legal non-profit Advocates for Justice.
“We’re going to win. We’re a public interest law firm committed to helping folks organizing to help their communities,” said Owens of the appeal, which comes on the heels of a lawsuit filed last week by the United Federation of Teachers against the Department of Education’s (DOE) February and March charter school placement decisions.
The decision that 1,200 students attending I.S. 303 and Rachel Carson should share space with around 400 students from Coney Island Preparatory Charter School was made at the May 5 meeting of the DOE’s Panel for Educational Policy, and so is not part of the union lawsuit.
“We’re not talking about precedents. Each case and school is different,” said Owens. “There may be similar themes and concerns, but our job is to put together the most powerful appeal.”
Since February, I.S. 303 parents, teachers, staff and students have fought against the merger, or what the DOE calls “co-location,” on the grounds that the school does not have extra space and that less room means a weakened curriculum.
“The DOE and Coney Island Prep believe we have space that we do not,” said Daniely. “We’re not debating that their children need space, but we can’t afford to have them come here and dismantle our self-containment classes that have proven to be effective for our children. We already share enough space with the high school, which becomes a safety issue.
“I hope the city is prepared for a battle. It’s just starting. This isn’t over,” she said.
For his part, Coney Island Prep Executive Director Jacob Mnookin acknowledges the battle, but describes it as a battle of collaboration to work out a deal that “would take the safety of the students into mind.”
The issue has also pitted local elected officials against one another, as Assemblymember William Colton has stated his support for the I.S. 303 community, while Councilmember Domenic Recchia put his support behind Coney Island Prep.
* Please note: Chris Owens is not an attorney; he is the Executive Director of Advocates for Justice.