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Columbia Spectator Staff

New York City Department of Education Chancellor Joel Klein said on Wednesday that it is time to forget politics and come together in the ongoing fight for school space. But for some parents, the competition to find and share classroom space is a contentious battle, with no simple solution in sight. In a public hearing on Wednesday evening, the Panel for Educational Policy­­—consisting of 13 appointed members and the chancellor—gave parents, students, and teachers the opportunity to voice concerns on the citywide debate on charter schools. The debate has particular relevance in Harlem, where these new schools are highly concentrated. The panel also announced a few decisions about space changes for charter schools in the area. Proponents of charters, which are public schools accountable to the DOE but run by an outside not-for-profit board, argue that these new schools provide unique opportunities to develop public schools with specific missions, giving parents more choices. But opponents often criticize them for taking much-needed space and other resources away from traditional public schools. For Klein and some parents who attended the hearing, this argument is counterproductive. "I wish we had much more space, so that each school could have the space we need," Klein said. But he said, "The only fight we should be fighting is for the quality of the educational service we provide." After the public comments, the panel made several decisions regarding the current situation of Harlem's charter schools. Opportunity Charter School on 113th Street, which shares space with another charter school and a traditional public school, will not be moving out of its current location this year. Relocation will be considered for 2011. The PEP is also looking to move a new school into 215 W. 114th St., which currently houses Wadleigh High School and Frederick Douglass Academy II, but this will not happen until 2011. Helen Rosenthal, former chair of Community Board 7, said after the meeting, these were welcome outcomes. "They deferred until 2011, and by that point in time, they'll have a better understanding." The discussion also included testimonies from students and parents on the current state of charter schools. Cheryl Powers, mother of a student at the charter Harlem Success Academy,, told the panel, "Please don't take away the space we need to help our children grow. These kids love waking up and going to school." Some students said that their experiences at charter schools have been rewarding. Darius Bryant, a student at Democracy Prep Charter School on 133rd Street, said, "I have teachers who come out and watch me play football and encourage me to do my best. I can tell they really care." The commitment of the teachers at charter schools is what convinces parents like Hansel Toussaint that these schools deserve access to public school space. "Charter schools do what it takes to get the job done," he said. Public Advocate Bill DiBasio told the panel that the process of closing schools needs to be more defined. "Parents and the entire school community have the rights to answers when they are asking about the fates of their schools. Closures should not move forward until city adopts a clear process," he said. Some parents said that equality is at the root of the demand for access to public space, and the choice of charter schools should not mean a lack of funding or resources. Elijah Francis, a student at Achievement, told the panel, "Every child deserves to be at the top of the list. Every child deserves an education." Angela Tucker, the mother of an eight-year-old student at Achievement First charter school in Brooklyn, said in an interview before the hearing that some have lost sight of the importance of education in these debates on space access. "I can speak for all the parents here. We just want to use the space in public schools. We want our kids to have access to education. Charter schools are public schools, so we should all focus on the children and not the politics," she said.

Department of Education Charter Schools