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Fail! City holds controversial hearing on eve of major test

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You can’t go out on a test night!

Bensonhurst protestors blasted the Department of Education for scheduling a public hearing on local charter school proposals on April 21 — the night before high-stakes state math exams.

The department held an hearing to collect parents’ feedback on the proposal to establish two publicly funded, privately run charters in the area, but the timing showed total tone-deafness, according to the area leaders.

“If you want parent engagement, you’re not going to get it the night before the test,” said Heather Fiorica, president of the District 21 Community Education Council.

Two charters are looking to open in school district 21. Mentora International wants to put a 400-seat high school in a Brighton Beach building that’s under construction, and Hebrew Language Academy is asking the city to find space for its proposed 474 students in one of the district’s public schools.

The state sent a letter to Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña on March 30 giving her 30 days to hold a hearing on the applications somewhere in the Coney Island-to-Midwood district.

On April 14, the department told the district’s community education council that it would hold the hearing at David A. Boody Junior High School in Bensonhurst just week one later — giving parents helping their kids prepare for state exams little opportunity to review the proposals before the April 21 hearing, Fiorica said.

Just 15 people out of a crowd of about 75 testified at the hearing, according to a Community Education Council spokeswoman.

Many in the crowd were teachers taking part in a union-organized protest against charters, Fiorica said.

In contrast, 330 people filled a 2013 hearing and 37 people testified on a proposed charter co-location at Bensonhurst’s IS 96, according to education department records.

The district’s community education council is not supporting applications for the two schools, and is asking for a moratorium on all new charters in the district, according to a letter members sent to Fariña on April 17.

“We object to such unethical methods bestowed upon us by the DOE and applicants, and therefore, we are hereby requesting that such applications be denied and no further charter school applicants are permitted in District 21,” the letter states.

A Department of Education spokesman said that the awkward timing was imposed by the state, which required the city to set a hearing date in the same month when kids spent one week on Spring Break and two weeks taking state tests.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.
Posted 12:00 am, April 24, 2015
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