Friday, March 9, 2012

Bronx Students Walk Out of Class to Protest Charter Co-Location Plan

By Patrick Wall DNAinfo Reporter/Producer
March 9, 2012 6:49pm
LONGWOOD — When several dozen students at Schomburg Satellite Academy High School heard the 12:05 bell ring Friday afternoon, rather than meander to their next class, they stood up, pulled out neon-colored poster boards and marched outside.


Cheyenne Lee, 18, addresses students from Schomburg Satellite Academy High School during a protest on March 9, 2012. Aiesha Vegas, 17, holds a sign. (DNAinfo/Patrick Wall)

Some 60 students joined in the walkout to protest the Department of Education's plan to move a new charter school into the five-story building at 1010 Reverend James Polite Ave., which already houses Schomburg and Bronx Regional High School, as well as a full-time GED program and childcare, medical and student-referral centers.

The protest comes days before a public hearing Monday on the proposal, and following weeks of organizing, outreach and even talk of legal action on the part of Schomburg students, who worry the city’s plan will lead to overcrowding, strained resources and even conflicts between the building’s current occupants and newcomers.

Students from Schomburg Satellite Academy High School staged a walkout on March 9, 2012 to protest the city's plan to move a new charter school into their building. (DNAinfo/Patrick Wall)

“You’re invading our space and the family we have here,” said student Crystal Samuels, 18, whose mother, Nona Samuels, is president of the school’s Parent Teacher Association.

Crystal added, “You bring in more kids — that’s more altercations.”

Like other students at the protest, Samuels emphasized that she was not opposed to the planned charter school, called ROADS II, but rather to the Department of Education’s plan to place ROADS in a building with two other schools.

The students proceeded down Polite Avenue to the district office of State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., where they chanted “No new schools!” as about a dozen police and school safety officers looked on.

The senator briefly stepped outside and offered the students his support, then he and a staffer met with four student representatives in his office.

Rev. Diaz told the students he supports charter schools, but not when the DOE uses them to “pit communities against each other.” He advised the students to recruit as many supporters as possible to attend Monday’s hearing.

“You have to get that place packed,” Diaz told the students, adding, “You’re doing the right thing.”

Resistance to the so-called co-location plan has slowly gained momentum since the DOE announced the proposal on its website about a month ago.

Students, parents and staff from Schomburg, along with a few representatives from Bronx Regional, held their first serious meeting about the plan on February 21. Since then, Schomburg’s student council has taken up the cause, the Parent Teacher Association discussed the matter, and a public interest law firm was reached to explore possible legal action against the city.

Both Schomburg and Bronx Regional serve older students who transferred from other high schools, often because they struggled with academics or discipline. ROADS II would also admit older students who are behind in credits, but they plan to give preference to teens who have faced serious setbacks, such as homelessness or run-ins with the law.

At Friday’s rally, students said classroom space is already limited. For example, Schomburg students currently have access to a single computer lab and must share a cafeteria and gym with Bronx Regional.

While both schools now occupy their own floors, students said it seems inevitable that next year they will have to split floor space with the charter school.

“We’re going to be overcrowded and uncomfortable,” said Schomburg student Eygribelk Ramirez, 15.

He and other students said they fear the co-location will lead to fights and fewer resources for students.

According to the DOE, only 67 percent of available space in the 162,000 square-foot building is being utilized. Adding another school to the building will not harm the current occupants, the DOE noted.

But Schomburg students and staff disagree. They have pointed out that Schomburg would eventually lose about half of its instructional space, going from 20 classrooms this year to a proposed 10-and-a-half classrooms in 2014, as ROADS moves in.

ROADS II is scheduled to open in the Bronx this fall with 150 students, while another branch, ROADS I, will launch in Brooklyn.

The schools, whose charter application was approved by the state last year, boasts a high-powered board of trustees that includes Jeff Li, the executive director of Teach For America in New York, and chairman Mark Gallogly, co-founder of the private equity firm Centerbridge Partners, as well as a member of President Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board.

The DOE will hold a public hearing on its proposal at 6 p.m. Monday at the school building on Polite Avenue

An educational oversight panel, which traditionally approves the DOE’s proposals, will vote on the plan the following week.

Regarding Friday’s walkout, a DOE spokeswoman said: “Students have a right to express themselves, but they cannot walk out during school hours and disrupt classroom time.”

Representatives for ROADS did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the protest.

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