Lawsuit to halt charter school co-locations on hold pending city review

The plaintiffs in a lawsuit aimed at rolling back school space plans approved under the Bloomberg administration say they are putting their litigation on hold until Chancellor Carmen Fariña reviews the plans.

A group of City Council members filed the lawsuit in December with the goal of undoing dozens of school co-locations that the Panel for Educational Policy approved last year. Many of the co-locations would allow privately managed charter schools to use public space, a practice that Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he would curb.

Public Advocate Letitia James, who filed the suit along with City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and others, told Chalkbeat that she had pushed back an upcoming court date in the suit after meeting with Fariña last week.

“I think I’m going to wait until the chancellor reviews each and every one,” James said. “But she and I will continue to have discussions.”

The postponement came after a handful of politically connected schools were already dropped from the suit. It also came as charter school advocates rallied Thursday at City Hall against the lawsuit, which they said could prevent thousands of students from having a place to attend school this fall.

Jeremiah Kittredge, executive director of Families for Excellent Schools, which organized the rally, said the news was a positive development but not enough to put charter school operators and families at ease. “We’re glad that Ms. James changed course,” he said. “However, unless other parties to the suit also adjourn, charter school children remain at risk.”

Arthur Schwartz, the lawyer who filed the lawsuit against the plans, said the suit’s main allegations, including that the city did not calculate available space in school buildings properly, remain true. But he said he wanted to let Fariña reassess school space plans approved last year before proceeding, as she has said publicly that she would do.

A spokesman for the Department of Education reiterated that promise today. “We’ve committed to reviewing the proposals that were approved this fall to ensure that they are in best interests of all students and schools,” Devon Puglia said. “It’s simply the responsible approach to take as we listen to communities across the city.”

Fariña has criticized the data the department used to calculate available space on several occasions, including at her first Panel for Educational Policy meeting last week. She has also said that parents and other stakeholders were too often excluded from decision-making in the past.

Schwartz suggested that parent groups in the districts and schools that would be affected by the plans could get a role in determining whether they are carried out. “There was an agreement on a process, a real genuine process,” he said.

The schools that were dropped from the suit had formulated their space plans with public support, Schwartz said.

Dream Charter School, which is housed in Mark-Viverito’s district, was removed because there was “zero opposition” to the plans, Schwartz said. He said the same went for a charter school being started by Children’s Aid Society, whose CEO Richard Buery was a member of de Blasio’s transition team, though there was plenty of criticism for the plan at a September public hearing, according to city documents.

A third charter school, Icahn Charter School, was removed after it withdrew its co-location proposal after securing private space.

Schwartz said the Children’s Aid Society got another pass because it did not retain the Arnold & Porter law firm to fight the suit the way that Success Academy, which has eight schools affected, and some other charter operators did. Success Academy’s chief legal officer used to work at that firm, which has an active pro bono practice defending charter schools.

Schwartz said Success Academy — whose CEO, Eva Moskowitz, was a target for de Blasio’s charter school criticisms on the campaign trail — was a main reason that litigation had been necessary in the first place.

“If Success wasn’t involved there would still be opposition, but it wouldn’t be as nasty,” Schwartz said. “There would probably be more of an effort by the charter schools to work things out.”

As for working it out, Schwartz said there was an obvious reason for Fariña to come to a compromise over the lawsuit, beyond her beliefs about how the school system should be run.

“I think the chancellor wants to resolve it and not be at war with her fellow officeholders,” he said.

Geoff Decker contributed reporting.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”