Williamsburg Charter Argues Bias Led to Closing DecisionMay 21, 2012, 6:24 p.m.
By Theodoric Meyer
More than 100 parents, students, teachers and administrators from Williamsburg Charter High School packed a Brooklyn courtroom on Monday for the start of a hearing to determine whether the school would shut down.
The city announced in January that it intended to close Williamsburg Charter, but the school won a temporary restraining order last month, allowing it to remain open until a hearing could determine its fate.
With Peninsula Preparatory Academy Charter School, it was the second charter school to win a reprieve, out of four charter schools the city had identified for closing this year.
Williamsburg Charter, which has 870 students, received a C on its latest school progress report.
The city had placed the school on probation in September after an investigation by Eric T. Schneiderman, the state attorney general, raised questions about management and finances.
At the center of those questions was Eddie Calderon-Melendez, the school’s controversial founder. The school’s board subsequently fired him, and Ellen K. Eagen, the school’s lawyer, has cited him as the source of most of Williamsburg Charter’s problems.
(Mr. Calderon-Melendez was also arrested last month and indicted on 11 felony charges, though Ms. Eagen has stressed that those charges were against Mr. Calderon-Melendez, not the school.)
In court on Monday, Ms. Eagen argued that the Department of Education’s decision to close Williamsburg Charter was biased and riddled with conflicts of interest — contentions that Andrew Rauchberg, the city’s lawyer, dismissed as a “fantastic hypothesis of conspiracy.”
Ms. Eagen spent the better part of two hours questioning Joshua Morales, a former Education Department employee and a consultant for Williamsburg Charter who is now the chief operating officer for Bedford-Stuyvesant New Beginnings Charter School in Brooklyn. A number of her questions focused on Mr. Morales’s ties to department and charter school officials.
Little of the hearing focused on the actual teaching and learning going on at Williamsburg Charter, though, and that frustrated Lisa Johnson, 40, a parent who had taken the day off from her job at a Park Slope day care center to attend the hearing.
“If the kids are doing well in school academically, what’s the problem?” she said.
Ms. Johnson chose to send her son, Daquell Lugo, who is in ninth grade, to Williamsburg Charter for the individual attention it gives its students, she said, and she has not been disappointed. Last week, her son’s father called one of Daquell’s teachers, Mr. McGhee, around 9 p.m. with a question about one of his grades. Mr. McGhee picked up the phone and answered the question, she said.
“That’s what I call dedication, and that’s what I like,” Ms. Johnson said. “I don’t think I’d get that at any other school.”
Ms. Johnson hasn’t enrolled Daquell in another high school for the fall — that would be admitting defeat, she said — and she is hoping Judge Ellen M. Spodek will produce a decision quickly. “We want to know what our future is for September,” she said.
The hearing is set to continue at Kings County Supreme Court on Tuesday at 11 a.m.