Education activists decried Harlem charter schools for taking away space from public schools and public housing projects at a meeting Thursday night.
Members of the socialist feminist organization Radical Women, as well as several other anti-charter groups, vowed—sometimes in extreme terms—to fight the expansion of charter schools.
The activists focused especially on one particular case: a new Harlem Children’s Zone charter school opened earlier this summer in the St. Nicholas Houses on 129th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue.
Harlem Children’s Zone, a charter network founded by education reformer Geoffrey Canada, opened its expanding Promise Academy Charter School in a new five-story school building in the middle of the housing project after two years of conflict with residents.
Emily Woo Yamasaki, one of the leaders of Radical Women, said she was concerned that the school would not serve residents of the St. Nicholas Houses.
“They put up a huge charter school there and, needless to say, very few children from that housing project are able to go to the school,” Yamasaki said, calling the school “the worst example” of the problems with charter schools.
The building replaced a cul-de-sac and playground, and the activists said they were concerned the new school—and its 1,300 students—would create congestion in the housing complex. Dust from construction also forced nearby residents to keep their windows closed during the hot summer months, the activists said.
Residents of the project and State Senator Bill Perkins sued Harlem Children’s Zone and the city over the construction in 2011, alleging that the construction removed parkland without the necessary state and city approval.
Going forward, Radical Women, as well as education advocacy groups Coalition for Public Education and the Independent Commission on Public Education, plan on raising public awareness of these projects—and had some fiery words for charter schools.
“Our focus is to address this educational system … this mis-educational system that can continue failing our black and Latino children,” Muba Yarofulani, co-chair of the Coalition for Public Education, said.
“It shows the whole apartheid system that the charter schools are being used to set up,” Yamasaki said.
Attendees said that they were concerned that the expansion of charter schools encroaches on already-used space in school buildings and projects, like at the St. Nicholas Houses.
“People here are aware that public education is being attacked. It’s being attacked through high-stake testing, charter schools, and gentrification, and we’re on the same wavelength,” Robin Strauss, a Radical Women member and an instructor at Hunter College, said.