Peninsula Prep Academy to stay open at least into the summer

A charter school that the city is trying to close will likely stay open well beyond the end of the school year while a judge reviews the case.

The city announced in January that it would not renew the Peninsula Preparatory Academy’s charter when it expires on June 30. But just as has happened at Williamsburg Charter High School, another charter school facing closure, parents and the school board at PPA have fought back in court. In March, PPA won a temporary restraining order, allowing the school to hold its lottery for next year and begin enrolling students. Principal Ericka Wala said today the school received 125 applications for 50 kindergarten seats and has already filled those seats.

On Thursday, Judge Diccia Pineda-Kirwan of the Queens County Supreme Court extended the restraining order indefinitely while she reviews the case. An additional motion was filed by parents who charge that their due process rights were violated by the Department of Education’s handling of the closure procedure. Advocates for Justice, the nonprofit law firm that is usually opposes charter schools in litigation, filed the motion on behalf of 98 families from the school. Pineda-Kirwan said today that she would need at least 60 days to decide the case but could take as long as 90 days, a scenario that would push the case into late August.

The decision puts the school in a thorny place as it attempts to plan for the next school year. Wala said that only two of the school’s 54 teachers have told her they won’t be returning next year, but that number is sure to grow the longer the school’s status is in limbo.

As of now, the school is also without a home for the 2012-2013 school year. After learning that PPA was headed for closure this winter, the landlord of the building where the school current operates informed Wala that he would not be renewing the lease.

“This is an issue that we’ll have to deal with as we move forward,” Wala said. The decision today, she added, “is just one of the hurdles we have to get over.”

The city announced plans to close Williamsburg Charter High School and Peninsula Prep Academy on the same day in January. But both schools have fought back in court and have so far scored small victories. On Tuesday, a judge extended a lifeline to Williamsburg Charter High School until at least next week, when lawyers on both sides hope for a final decision about the school’s fate.

A decision for Peninsula Prep, an elementary school, is less urgent. Because elementary-aged students enroll in schools based on where they live, it will be easier for the DOE to place students into nearby schools. In the event that a judge rules against Williamsburg Charter High School, the DOE will need to hold a mini lottery with a smaller pool of high schools to accept underclassmen in the the 900-student school.

Both charter schools arrived at their fate for different reasons. Williamsburg Charter High School ignored warnings by the DOE to divorce itself from its troubled founder, Eddie Calderone-Melendez. Calderone-Melendez was arrested last month for alleged financial improprieties that connected back to his handling of the network that oversaw Williamsburg Charter.

Peninsula Prep, on the other hand, was cited for failing to meet several academic outcome measures that were part of its charter agreement with the DOE, which authorized the school. But the decision to close the school was criticized because it left hundreds of parents who lived on the isolated Rockaways Peninsula with few quality district school options. Hostility to the decision played out at public hearings and in protests at Tweed.

That hostility was still apparent in the courtroom today.

PPA’s students “come from areas in the Rockaways which are disenfranchised, segregated, isolated, and ill-serviced,” Wala said. “Many of the local public schools struggle through these conditions, which perpetuate an overall lower academic performance for the Rockaways.”