The controversial founder of the Success Academy charter schools, Eva Moskowitz, said on Monday that her network and a group of parents filed a lawsuit to reverse the city's decision to block a middle school from opening this fall even as Mayor Bill de Blasio said he would find alternate seats for the 194 children affected.
She also announced plans for the group to file a federal civil rights complaint.
Surrounded by families and teachers, Moskowitz said she remained hopeful that the city would find a new home for her Harlem Central middle school which is sited temporarily in another building. But with no solid alternative, she said, the network had no choice but to begin legal action.
"I have reached out to the mayor repeatedly, not having any phone calls returned," she said. "We are looking forward to sitting down. But we cannot leave children in the lurch. We cannot leave families in the lurch.
Her attorney, Emily Kim, said the city violated state education law by failing to conduct open hearings and to hold a vote by the panel for Educational Policy, before revoking plans to co-locate Harlem Central middle school inside another public school building.
"There is no precedent for the D.O.E. to be taking an existing school and throwing it out onto the street," said Kim.
In late February, the de Blasio administration announced its decision to stop three Success Academy schools from opening in co-located buildings, as well as some district schools. He approved many more of them to open. All of the school plans were approved late in Mayor Michael Bloomberg's final year in office.
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said her team developed criteria to assess the school plans before allowing them all to proceed. She would not approve putting elementary schools and high schools together, for example. She also said the Harlem Central middle school's opening at P.S. 149 would have negatively affected a District 75 special needs program, another criteria the Department of Education devised to assess the co-locations.
Overall, the city is allowing 14 out of 17 co-located charters to open this fall, as scheduled. Five of the charters are part of the Success Academy network. Speaking on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Monday, the mayor said: "It is not about Eva, it's not about you, it's not about me.
"It is about the kids. It's about coming up with a policy to fix our schools. As for the 194 kids, we've said explicitly, we will find a location for them."
Those 194 children of turned out to be a political liability for the mayor when their smiling faces turned up in a full-page newspaper ad last week. Success Academy also argued that the city found no negative impact on children with special needs when it approved the co-location plan last year, during the Bloomberg administration.
Tisha Hatch, whose nine-year-old son attends fourth grade at Harlem Success 4 elementary school, said she joined the lawsuit because she wants him to attend the middle school. She said the dispute between de Blasio and Moskowitz seems personal.
"To me, he's using this to get back at her," she said.
The mayor's defenders pushed back on Monday, criticizing Moskowitz's legal action. The president of the NAACP's local chapter, Hazel Dukes, called the Success Academy lawsuit an "outrageous and insulting attempt by Wall Street hedge fund managers to hijack the language of civil rights."
And several parents at P.S. 149 said they were grateful that the mayor would not let the Success Academy move its middle school into the building, because it would lead to more crowding. Their viewpoints were included in a video.