It Can Be Done: DOE Reverses Decision to Co-Locate Thriving Brownsville High School

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So, remember how in December we concluded that there's nothing that a public school can do to successfully fight off co-locations with other schools?

Well, Brownsville Academy High School proved us wrong.

Under Mayor Michael Bloomberg's reign, rulings on co-location proposals seem to be guided by an unspoken scientific law which asserts that a co-location in motion shall remain in motion.

But, less than a week after dozens of BAHS students filed a lawsuit against the New York City Department of Education challenging the co-location of a Success Academy charter school, the DOE has notified the lawyer of the students, Arthur Schwartz of Advocates for Justice, that it will scrap its plans to co-locate the building out of which BAHS operates.

"Most of these co-locations are met with resistance from parents students and the community at-large...But to actually have them withdraw their proposal for Brownsville Academy, it means a lot," Amelia Adams, deputy director New York Communities For Change, an organization which worked closely with BAHS and other schools to fight co-locations, told the Voice. "It builds momentum. We see this as an opportunity to continue organizing so that co-locations aren't rammed down people's throats."

Prior to yesterday's revelation, the DOE wasn't swayed by the fact that BAHS serves as a rare example of a high-performing transfer high school, nor that the school received an A-rating on the city's most recent report card, nor that the majority of the school's students passed their regents exams, nor that its students were willing to handcuff themselves to classroom desks in protest, nor that they traveled to Washington to rally against school closures and co-locations, nor that it's kind of awkward to co-locate kindergarteners and first graders alongside 20-year-olds.

"Morale really took a dive when the [Panel for Educational Policy] agreed to the co-location," Tyrone Francisco, a 18 year-old senior at BAHS, tells the Voice. "They wouldn't listen to anything. They already knew what they were doing. They wanted the space that we had, and they wanted to push us out. That was their whole plan, just push us out."

The DOE likely changed its course because the lawsuit highlighted some significant legal issues with the co-location. The lawsuit argues that the DOE failed to adequately prove that BAHS students, 25 percent of whom have special-needs according to the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, would continue to receive the quality and range of services guaranteed to them under the federally mandated IDEA.

BAHS is currently the only school operating within the converted office-building identified by the DOE as building K907. Success Academy would've began the upcoming school year with 164-210 kindergarteners and first graders and then added one grade of students every year until its population capped-off at 343-556 students as a full K-5 elementary school in 2017. That would've bought the building's total population to 128-158 percent of its maximum capacity.

The transfer school would have went from utilizing 34 full-size classrooms to just 12 by 2016. But, the DOE was cool with that and willing to pretend like such a drastic cut in space wouldn't interfere with the quality of services the students received.

The move would've stripped the school of a vital support services center, its technology lab and its writing center--three resources which the school documented as having a profound effect on student achievement. The lawsuit argues that the DOE failed to prove that BAHS students could continue to have access to such important resources.

"By failing to use any language other than general assurances that BAHS will be able to carry out its program for disabled students, and by its failure to even properly identify what percentage of BAHS students are learning disabled, [the DOE only identified 8 percent], the [Educational Impact Statement] violated the core requirements of the IDEA," the lawsuit argues.

Unfortunately, "Bloomberg Law's of Co-location" must be fulfilled, thus a spokesperson from DOE told WNYC that the department has identified P.S. 167 as a substitute location where his buddy Eva Moskowitz can open her 20th Success Academy in New York City.

"It's more of win/lose situation for me. I'm so happy that they didn't co-locate our school, but I'm not going to stand for them just trying again at another school," Francisco says.

The DOE did not cite the lawsuit as the motivating factor for pulling out of the co-location site at K907. Whatever the reasoning behind its decision, it appears that co-locations really can't be destroyed under Bloomberg--only transferred.

These totally made-up and unscientific Bloomberg/co-location rules have proved to be as rock solid as the law of gravity in recent years, but Francisco remains undaunted by the power that the mayor and the DOE yield. In fact the fight to save BAHS from co-location has inspired him to pursue a career in political science.

"[I have] a message for the DOE and Mayor Bloomberg," Francisco says. "Just know that you will see Tyrone Francisco again, and again, and again."

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