More than 150 public school advocates marched in the rain from South 4th and Roebling streets over to the middle school at 183 South 3rd Street, where a hearing regarding the proposal was held later that night.
Success Academy Charter Schools, run by former politician Eva Moskowitz, is often criticized by public school parents who say the corporation fails to serve students with special needs, non-English speakers, and low-income families.
The elementary charter school would take up the space in M.S. 50 once held by the Academy for Young Writer's, which is now in a new building.
However, protesters said elementary schools in the area are underutilized and the community needs a new middle school instead, and that parents who want to send their kids to a charter school in District 14 can do so in North Williamsburg, where one is set to open in September 2012.
Brooke Parker, who has a child in P.S. 84 and was on the local Community Education Council for two years, said before the march that students at charter schools “are not the English-language learners, they're not the special needs kids, they're only the kids that are able to give them the high test scores.
“So what the Department [of Education] schools are left with are all the kids who don't make it there and then our schools end up suffering,” she said. “Those charter schools are the ones that promote all the high-stakes testing that ruin all of our community schools.”
Parker is also a member of the advocacy group Williamsburg and Greenpoint Parents for Our Public Schools, who have children at P.S. 84, 31, 34, 110, 132 and 17.
She said her group is especially privy to the under-utilization of local elementary schools, and fear a new charter school will add further competition for their students.
“There's no benefit to our community,” Parker said of Success Academy Charter Schools. “We don't need them, we don't want them.”
However, despite the opposition, Success Academy has maintained that it does educate children with special needs and that the protests are a political campaign led by the teachers' union.
In response to protests against a Cobble Hill proposal in December, Success Academy spokesperson Kerri Lyon said “they serve comparable numbers of students with special needs and have made a major commitment to continuing to improve the way that they serve these children.”
After the march, protesters chaotically gathered on both sides of the streets in front of the school under the watchful eye of local police officers, and members of the Occupy Williamsburg branch held banners nearby to show their support.
Shortly after they gathered, a representative from the school's Beacon program provided shelter in the auditorium for protesters to wait for the hearing to start.
Amid the protest, Councilwoman Diana Reyna held a press conference next to the entrance to M.S. 50 to show her support.
“We are being told as a community, we must accept what would be the decision on behalf of the Department of Education to co-locate another charter school in this district,” Reyna said.
“We are losing our schools, we're losing our churches, we're losing our businesses,” she said. “This is a community that's struggling to preserve itself.”
She said the community was kept in the dark from information regarding the proposal, and the city is failing to address the half-empty elementary schools in South Williamsburg.
She said charter schools are a quick fix on behalf of the Education Department, which is failing to improve struggling public schools on a citywide level.
“Today, we are here to tell the Department of Education they must be responsible for the education of our children,” she said. “Any failure assumed by our students is a failure on their minds, hearts and soul.”
A parent of a sixth grader at M.S. 50 also spoke at the conference, saying she had two daughters who previously graduated there and are now doing well with their education.
“Bringing the charter school here,” she said, “it would diminish us.”
She said she feared that the co-location of a charter school would eventually lead to the closure of M.S. 50.
“I would like my other two young girls to attend junior high school 50, and I would like to see this open in the next 25 years so they can finish their middle school education here,” she said.