Charter kids shut out of summer school

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The Department of Education is quick to say charter schools are public schools, so it came as a shock to Tech International Charter School parents that this wasn’t the case when summer school seats are at stake.

Because their children did not score high enough to pass state exams or were recommended for additional instruction this summer, at least 10 TI parents attempted to enroll their child in a DOE-run school. Some gave up, others went through several schools before their child was accepted.

Though not required, the DOE has traditionally enrolled charter and private school students in summer school classes with open seats at no cost to their parents. The department reimburses district schools for taking these students, but it doesn’t budget for them ahead of time, which may put DOE schools in a budgetary bind. At least that’s what they indicated to parents at TI, a Corlear Avenue middle school that focuses on technology and international cultures.  

Laura Lazar Kearns, a Van Cortlandt Village resident, said her daughter did not pass the state math exam and needed to get into summer school so she could start seventh grade with her peers. 

As instructed, Ms. Lazar Kearns tried to register her daughter at her zoned school, Sheila Mencher Van Cortlandt School, PS/MS 95, before June 26. 

PS/MS 95 staff told her to check back on July 8, the first day of summer school, to see if they had any seats left over after enrolling district students. 

Come July 8, PS/MS 95 had too many students to accommodate Ms. Lazar Kearns’ kid. The school helped her get in touch with MS 80 staff running a program in the PS/MS 95 building. Ms. Lazar Kearns’ child spent two days in an MS 80 class before being sent home with a memo noting the school didn’t have space for her daughter.

Ms. Lazar Kearns then went to Multiple Intelligence School, PS/MS 37, and IN-Tech Academy, MS/HS 368 – where she said she was turned away because of space constraints – and the David A. Stein Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy, MS/HS 141 – where she said a staff member indicated they weren’t obligated to educate her daughter and wouldn’t be paid to do so. Principal Lori O’Mara disputed this, saying she didn’t believe the school was giving parents such a message.

After several calls to charter advocates and DOE liaisons, Ms. Lazar Kearns visited the District 10 office, where the family advocate was able to get her child into RKA on July 11.

“I pay my taxes. I do what I need to do. The whole politics behind it is not something I have control over,” Ms. Lazar Kearns said, noting that her daughter is now nervous about going to RKA and has missed the two days of instruction permissible before students fail summer school. “She was literally in tears she was so upset. She felt rejected. She’s emotionally screwed up right now.”

After facing a similar predicament and missing two days of work, Tina Carolei decide her son could do without summer school. The Norwood mother said her son was recommended –– but not required --–– to take math this summer.

“It’s just very, very disorganized,” Ms. Carolei said. “It’s the city’s job to make it happen –– to pay more salaries, send in more teachers, whatever.”

District 10 Community Education Council President Marvin Shelton said at least 10 TI parents had called the district office looking for help. District 10 Superintendent Melodie Mashel was trying to find schools to accommodate the children, he said.

TI Principal Adjowah Scott did not return requests for comment before deadline. After its first year, the charter school’s executive director Steve Bergen resigned. Some parents have raised concerns about teacher turnover as well.

The DOE allocates money to district schools for summer instruction based on October audits of their registers. This money is pooled together to help run summer classes at sites serving students from several schools. 

David Pena, a DOE press representative, said after the department enrolls all district students in a program, it offers vacant seats to charter and private school students who are city residents and at risk of not being promoted or not graduating on time on a first-come, first-serve basis. 

“Public schools will receive funding for each non-public or charter school student admitted for summer school,” Mr. Pena wrote in an e-mail.

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