The proposed siting of a charter school at P.S. 160 has divided Co-op City parents and peeved at least one elected official. In March, the city’s Department of Education identified high-achieving P.S. 160 as a potential site for the Equality Charter School, a new junior high scheduled to open in the fall. According to DOE spokeswoman Melody Meyer, P.S. 160 is currently operating at half-capacity.
A number of Co-op City families have embraced Equality; they consider it a worthwhile option. Other families are set against the charter; they want to preserve P.S. 160 for public education. Equality held a lottery on April 8. All NYC students were allowed to apply, although School District 11 students were afforded priority. According to principal JoAnn Murphy, Equality filled 66 sixth grade and 53 seventh grade seats. Nearly 150 students were wait-listed for sixth grade; Murphy needs to fill an additional 13 seventh grade seats. On April 22, the DOE held a public hearing. P.S. 160 parent association co-president Sebastian Ulanga attended.
“The DOE claims that P.S. 160 is at half-capacity,” Ulanga said. “To me, that’s a lie.”
According to Ulanga, the charter – if sited in Co-op City – will hog P.S. 160’s science, music and computer rooms. He and Assemblyman Michael Benedetto, a former P.S. 160 special education teacher, want to keep District 11 elementary and middle school students separate.
On April 22, Benedetto ticked off arguments against the siting of Equality in Co-op City. P.S. 160 is a terrific school, he said; charters are intended for districts where public schools are failing. P.S. 160 is inconveniently located at the edge of District 11. Equality is an unproven commodity. The DOE identified P.S. 160 sans-community input. The assemblyman is critical of charters in general. According to Benedetto, charters snag the city’s top students and leave the public schools to flounder.
According to Murphy, 43 percent of the students accepted by Equality hail from Co-op City. Murphy initially asked for a site in School District 12, where a number of middle schools are struggling. But the DOE locked in on P.S. 160, a “barrier-free” building. Equality has reserved 20 percent of its seats for disabled students.
P.S. 160 parent association co-president Mona Davids is an Equality advocate. Her daughter will attend the charter in the fall. According to Davids, many of the students set to attend Equality are currently enrolled at parochial schools.
“District 11 needs more middle school choices,” she said. “Charter students perform better on state tests.”
Equality will start with grades six and seven, and will add grade eight soon. Eventually, the charter will move to a separate building and add grades 9-12. District 11 Community Education Council president Monica Major was miffed when the DOE moved Equality to District 11 unannounced. But Major believes Murphy will run a solid charter. Murphy has promised to work with P.S. 160 administrators.
The DOE will decide for or against a P.S. 160 siting this month. The building’s caulking has tested positive for toxic waste, a concern that the DOE didn’t consider, Meyer said.