Nearly nine months after Albany passed legislation requiring all charter schools in New York City to form parent groups, the city does not yet know exactly how many city charters are in compliance with the law.
Speaking to a meeting of the New York Charter Parents Association on January 20, the director of the Department of Education’s charter school office, Recy Dunn, told parents that the city was just beginning to monitor schools’ compliance.
“I don’t have the answer on how many charters currently have PTAs,” Dunn said. “Would I like to find out? Absolutely.”
In September, the DOE directed all city charter schools to launch parent groups by October to comply with the law, and report back to the city with their progress by that time. City officials said today that many of the schools did not respond to that directive and that they had not since followed up with many of the schools.
Officials said that going forward they would check if schools have parent groups when they make their annual site visits to each school they authorized. They’re also including the question on a survey that it sends to each school in the city.
“We’ve informed charters of the legal requirement and asked them to confirm that they have a parents association,” said DOE spokesman Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld. “We’re now in the process of following up with them, and expect that they’ll all make the necessary arrangements.”
The slow response time in ensuring compliance can partly be explained by a personnel shortage in the city’s charter office. The city’s charter school office has experienced high turnover in the past year and is currently working with almost half the staff the office had last year. Dunn told the charter parent group that one of his first priorities is staffing up the charter office.
Dunn is the third person to lead the charter office since the law was passed last May. The former director of the city’s charter office, Michael Duffy, left the DOE in July. Aaron Listhaus, the charter office’s former Chief Academic Officer, stepped in as interim director, before Dunn took over the office in the middle of the school year. Listhaus has also since left the office to lead the Hebrew Charter Center.
The effort to confirm that all schools are in compliance is also hindered by some disagreement over which schools are subject to the parent association provision in the law, which was hastily written during late-night negotiations over the bill to double the number of charter schools allowed to open in the state.
While the provision explicitly requires all charters located in the city district to establish parent associations, it was inserted into the school governance law, which does not govern charter schools. When the city told all charters to start parent groups, the SUNY Charter School Institute told the 49 city schools it oversees independently of the DOE that the provision did not apply to them.
Out of the 125 charter schools currently operating in New York City, 69 were authorized by the DOE. Many of the rest operate in public building space, which gives the city leverage to require that they adhere to the parent association mandate.
City officials still interpret the law as applicable to all charter schools in New York City, regardless of authorizer, but it is more difficult for city officials to check compliance at schools it does not directly oversee, officials said.
There is little clarity about how many charter schools in the city already have parent associations. City officials and charter advocates say that anecdotally they believe most schools have parent groups in place now. But Mona Davids, the parent advocate who founded the New York Charter Parents Association, believes that the number is much lower than city officials expect.
The issue of whether charter schools should be required to have parent associations has been a sticky one for nearly a year. Parent advocates like Davids argue that mandating parent groups preserves parents’ rights and prevents schools from shutting parents out of school decision-making. Some charter advocates, on the other hand, contend that the presence of parent associations does not always automatically lead to strong parental involvement and that requiring them erodes the bureaucratic autonomy charters were originally intended to have.