To the Panel on Education Policy,
We oppose the proposed two-year co-location of a charter school, East Harlem Scholars Academy, in the Life Sciences Secondary School building at 320 East 96th Street.
We are concerned that Life Sciences’ existing facilities are insufficient not only for this co-location but for the school’s current needs. We challenge the validity and accuracy of the Educational Impact Statement, which must be corrected prior to approval. The notice for this co-location was defective, leaving our office and the community unaware of the proposal. Finally, we are concerned that the Department of Education is setting up Life Sciences’ for failure by truncating the school last year, only to use the vacancies created as grounds for a co-location within months.
Historic Failure to Invest in Life Sciences Secondary School and Truncation
My office previously requested a truncation for another school in my district, which has a predominantly White student body. The Department of Education refused the request, and instead committed to building a partnership with a local institution to increase enrollment in the middle school and committed to further investment in the elementary and middle school.
At the same time, the Department of Education sought to move forward with a truncation to remove the middle school of Life Sciences Secondary School. As of the 2017 – 18 school year, Life Sciences Secondary School was almost entirely students of color: 58.7% Hispanic, 29.1% Black, 6.6% Asian, and only 3.3% White. My office requested equal treatment for the schools, requesting that the DOE either truncate both schools or invest in both schools. In November 2017, our office requested that Deputy Mayor Alicia Glenn and the Department of Education reach out to Health + Hospitals Metropolitan Hospital one block away, Mt. Sinai Hospital six blocks away, or any of the institutions in the district’s hospital corridor. The Department of Education refused this request, despite having taken a similar course on Roosevelt Island.
Additionally, the Department of Education
also refused my request Council Member Kallos to begin to desegregate the school by adding pre-kindergarten seats and/or a gifted and talented program.
My office’s requests in the interim for the Department of Education to invest in Life Sciences Secondary School through public-private partnerships have been met with inaction while similarly situated schools with majority White enrollment in the district continue to see investment.
The Department of Education should immediately build public-private partnerships in furtherance of the mission of Life Sciences Secondary School.
Without the truncation of Life Sciences Secondary School in 2017, which began in the 2018 – 2019 academic school year, there would not be 60 seats available for a charter school to be co-located, in the 2019 – 2020 school year. This raises the question of whether the DOE went through with the truncation as a necessary means to an end, in order to make room for the planned co-location.
Life Sciences’ student body is 58.7% Hispanic, 29.1% Black, 6.6% Asian, and only 3.3% White. East Side Middle School, another public school located five blocks away on East 91st Street, is 66% White. The East Harlem Scholars Academy is 1% White. The decision to co-locate a new school heavily majority-minority school with a currently existing majority-minority school, rather than finding ways to integrate, concerns us as it may only further cement segregation.
Life Sciences Secondary School is situated in an aging building that is not ADA accessible, does not have a full kitchen to prepare meals, lacks vital technology, and has no dedicated space for physical education but instead uses its auditorium as a gym as well. We do not believe the current school building is sufficient to meet the needs of existing public school students let alone accommodate the needs of 180 new charter school students.
The Department of Education must immediately invest in building out the cafeteria with necessary cooking equipment, ventilation, and air conditioning so that workers can meet the demands of feeding nutritious meals to hundreds of hungry teenagers.
The auditorium and physical education spaces must be split so that the two spaces can be used independently without one use interrupting the other. In order to do so, the physical education space would need the currently slanted floor to be leveled in order to remove current hazards to students with the addition of additional sports equipment and infrastructure.
For a school named “Life Sciences” the school does not have dedicated classroom space or specialty equipment to support its mission or attract students seeking a once in a lifetime opportunity. The Department of Education must invest in adequate STEM equipment along with specialized medical equipment that can give students ostensibly studying life sciences an early opportunity to gain early and vital experience.
According to the DOE’s website, the Life Sciences building currently has “No Accessibility.” The school building should be outfitted with an accessible entrance and an elevator to open it up to all students and bring it into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The Department of Education should invest in these changes regardless of a co-location.
We were not made aware of this proposed co-location until well into the process. On December 14, 2018, my office received an email notice from the Department of Education with the unclear subject line “Public Notice - Proposals for Significant Changes in School Utilization - January 30, 2019 Panel for Educational Policy Meeting - Murry Bergtraum High School.” Based on this subject line, anyone would believe the notice concerned not Life Sciences Secondary School, but rather Murry Bergtraum High School, which is not in my district. It was not until January 14, 2019 that my office received outreach from an intergovernmental affairs representative calling attention to the proposed colocation in his district and a proposed hearing for the very same day.
We are not aware of any prior attempts by the DOE to engage with the local community on this proposal.
Inaccurate Educational Impact Statement
Inaccuracies in the Educational Impact Statement bring into question the validity of the statement and what the ultimate impact will be.
Inaccurate "Enrollment Data"
Department of Education appears to have made assumptions that are at best an error and at worst fraudulent. Life Sciences currently boasts 158 tenth graders. According to the “enrollment data,” that class is expected to hemorrhage nearly half of its students to as few as 85 the following year, then go up to 95 or 105 for graduation. It stands to reason that the 158 students will continue through graduation.
Ignored "School Performance Data"
The Educational Impact Statement reports every quality indicator for Life Sciences for the past two academic years as "N/A." Prior to a co-location, the DOE must track quality indicators and invest in this school such that every indicator is at minimum "Proficient." Without these vital measures, we will have no way of measuring the impact on the quality of Life Sciences’ education during the co-location.
Continued Divestment from Life Sciences Secondary School
The "Initial Impact on Budget and Cost of Instruction" indicates no additional costs for adding as many as 180 students:
- No new needs are indicated for cafeteria upgrades or staffing increases to feed an additional 180 hungry students,
- No new needs are indicated for school security to welcome students and keep them safe,
- No new needs are indicated for STEM space or hardware for existing students let alone 180 children who must be prepared for the future.
I do not believe it is possible to add a significant number of students without needing additional cafeteria or security staff. The Department of Education must update the Educational Impact Statement for thoroughness and accuracy.
The Department of Education must address serious concerns regarding current infrastructure needs at Life Sciences, must revisit an inaccurate and incomplete Educational Impact Statement, provide proper notice for this co-location, and finally invest in public schools with students almost exclusively of color. Finally, Department of Education must create public-private partnerships in order to support Life Sciences and fill vacancies created by the truncation prior to even considering a co-location with a charter school.
In conclusion, we reiterate our opposition to the proposed two-year co-location of a charter school, East Harlem Scholars Academy, in the Life Sciences Secondary School building.
This letter is submitted with the support of the United Federation of Teachers and the Council of School Supervisors & Administrators.
Yours in common mission,
City Council Member, District 5