turf wars

Klein dials back, but doesn't withdraw, emergency powers threat

In a major reversal, the city said today it would ask a Lower East Side charter school to find a new space instead of expanding inside its current building.

Facing a threat of litigation, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein is backing down, at least for the moment, from using new emergency powers to allow Girls Preparatory Charter School to add a middle school inside the PS 188 building. Klein said last week that he would use the powers to override a state ruling barring the expansion, but the city never took the steps to make his declaration official.

Klein said he hasn’t ruled out taking those steps in the future.

“Given the threats of litigation and continuing uncertainty, we are working with the Board of Girls Prep to find a stable solution for these young women,” he said. “At the same time, we remain prepared to exercise our emergency powers should that become necessary.”

Meanwhile, Girls Prep will delay the first day of classes for some students by up to a month while it searches for more space.

The Lower East Side has been divided for months over the city’s plan to let Girls Prep add middle school grades in the same building, PS 188, that houses its elementary school. The building also houses PS 94, a school for autistic children. Parents there charged that the city hadn’t given them enough information about how Girls Prep’s expansion would affect their school.

State Education Commissioner David Steiner surprised the city by siding with PS 94 parents earlier this month when he ruled against the space plan. In response, Klein said he would use emergency powers given to him by the 2009 school governance law to go ahead with expanding Girls Prep. But the voices opposing Klein’s move were loud and plentiful.

Advocates for Children, a nonprofit that provides legal assistance for families of students with special needs, informed the city last week that it would seek a restraining order to prevent Klein from exercising emergency powers, executive director Kim Sweet told me today.

AFC’s threat was enough to make Girls Prep start looking for another place to open its middle school.

“The threat by Advocates for Children to challenge an emergency declaration has created an unacceptable level of uncertainty for us so we are being forced to find another option,” said Kim Morcate, principal of the middle school.

A last-minute hunt to find space for 125 fifth- and sixth-graders means the middle school won’t open on Aug. 16 as planned. Instead, Morcate said Girls Prep hopes to open its middle school “within four weeks,” or around the same time as city schools open for the 2010-2011 school year. Girls Prep’s elementary school students will start Aug. 23 as planned.

“Delaying the start of school for these students is in no way ideal,” said Natalie Ravitz, a Department of Education spokeswoman. “But after consulting with Girls Prep, PS 94, local elected officials, parents and advocates, we feel it is incumbent upon the department to exhaust all other options before issuing an emergency declaration.”

Ravitz also said that the city still considers PS 188 an “appropriate” home for Girls Prep’s expansion.

“They have adequate space available and it would not result in a single special-education student being moved,” she said. “But if we can identify alternative space for one year — whether private or public — we feel it would be the best outcome for all involved.”

“Given the threats of litigation and continuing uncertainty, we are working with the Board of Girls Prep to find a stable solution for these young women.  At the same time, we remain prepared to exercise our emergency powers should that become necessary.”

Morcate said Girls Prep has already begun identifying space options.

“It’s promising that there may some attempt to find another alternative,” Sweet said. “But it’s not over yet.”

weekend update

How the education world is reacting to racist violence in Charlottesville — and to Trump’s muted response

PHOTO: Andrew Dallos/Flickr
A rally against hate in Tarrytown, New York, responds to the violence in Charlottesville.

For educators across the country, this weekend’s eruption of racism and violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, offered yet another painful opportunity to communicate their values to families, colleagues, and community members.

Many decried the white supremacists who convened in the college town and clashed with protesters who had come to oppose their message. Some used social media to outline ideas about how to turn the distressing news into a teaching moment.

And others took issue with President Donald Trump’s statement criticizing violence “on many sides,” largely interpreted as an unwillingness to condemn white supremacists.

One leading education official, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, followed Trump’s approach, criticizing what happened but not placing blame on anyone in particular:

DeVos’s two most recent predecessors were unequivocal, both about what unfolded in Charlottesville and whom to blame:

Leaders of the nation’s two largest teachers unions responded directly to Trump:

The American Federation of Teachers, Weingarten’s union, is supporting vigils across the country Sunday night organized by chapters of Indivisible, a coalition that emerged to resist the Trump administration. The union also promoted resources from Share My Lesson, its lesson-plan site, that deal with civil rights and related issues.

“As educators, we will continue to fulfill our responsibility to make sure our students feel safe and protected and valued for who they are,” Weingarten said in a statement with other AFT officials.

Local education officials took stands as well, often emotionally. Here’s what the superintendent in Memphis, which is engaged in the same debate about whether Confederate memorials should continue to stand that drew white supremacists to Charlottesville, said on Twitter:

Teachers in Hopson’s district return for the second week of classes on Monday. They’ve helped students process difficult moments before, such as a spate of police killings of black men in 2016; here’s advice they shared then and advice that teachers across the country offered up.

We want to hear from educators who are tackling this tough moment in their classrooms. Share your experiences and ideas here or in the form below. 

Betsy DeVos

‘Underperformer,’ ‘bully,’ and a ‘mermaid with legs’: NYMag story slams Betsy DeVos

PHOTO: New York Magazine
A drawing of DeVos commissioned by an 8-year-old starts the New York Magazine article.

A new article detailing Betsy DeVos’s first six months as U.S. education secretary concludes that she’s “a mermaid with legs: clumsy, conspicuous, and unable to move forward.”

That’s just one of several brutal critiques of DeVos’s leadership and effectiveness in the New York Magazine story, by Lisa Miller, who has previously covered efforts to overhaul high schools, New York City’s pre-kindergarten push, and the apocalypse. Here are some highlights:

  • Bipartisan befuddlement: The story summarizes the left’s well known opposition to DeVos’s school choice agenda. But her political allies also say she’s making unnecessary mistakes: “Most mystifying to those invested in her success is why DeVos hasn’t found herself some better help.”
  • A friend’s defense: DeVos is “muzzled” by the Trump administration, said her friend and frequent defender Kevin Chavous, a school choice activist.
  • The department reacts: “More often than not press statements are being written by career staff,” a spokesperson told Miller, rejecting claims that politics are trumping policy concerns.
  • D.C. colleagues speak: “When you talk to her, it’s a blank stare,” said Charles Doolittle, who quit the Department of Education in June. A current education department employee says: “It’s not clear that the secretary is making decisions or really capable of understanding the elements of a good decision.”
  • Kids critique: The magazine commissioned six portraits of DeVos drawn by grade-schoolers.
  • Special Olympics flip-flop: DeVos started out saying she was proud to partner with the athletics competition for people with disabilities — and quickly turned to defending a budget that cuts the program’s funding.
  • In conclusion: DeVos is an underperformer,” a “bully” and “ineffective,” Miller found based on her reporting.

Updated (July 31, 2017): A U.S. Education Department spokesperson responded to our request for comment, calling the New York Magazine story “nothing more than a hit piece.” Said Liz Hill: “The magazine clearly displayed its agenda by writing a story based on largely disputed claims and then leaving out of the article the many voices of those who are excited by the Secretary’s leadership and determination to improve education in America.”