Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Hoboken Board of Education loses 'HoLa' charter expansion battle (again)

Little League Game- Hoboken, NJ (May, 2015)
Turns out it is a lot easier to say something is "arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable" than to actually prove it to the NJ Education Commissioner. Such is the case with the Hoboken Board of Education and its claims against the NJ Department of Education, the NJ Commissioner of Education, and the Hola Dual Language Charter School. In addition to the Board's appeal battle against the original decision siding with the Hola Dual Language Charter School, the Hoboken Board of Education wanted to issue a "stay" disallowing the already approved 7th grade from forming in September. In the documents they submitted, the Hoboken Board of Education declared the decision to grant Hola's expansion as "arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable"-- terms that they are certainly allowed to use but must also actually back up with evidence, facts, and compelling arguments (spoiler alert--- they failed). 

The Board was successful in using harsh words against the families of Hola and the decision of the Commissioner to renew Hola's charter and approve its expansion. In the later (actually PROVING their point of harm), they failed to make a compelling argument. What is next? Well, first, there will likely be a dismissive attitude about the current ruling of the Commissioner as being "expected" from the Hoboken Board of Education. Then, there will be a decision by the Appellate Court on the matter (a.k.a. "the lawsuit"). Should the Kids First majority controlled Hoboken Board of Education lose the case, they can then appeal the case to the NJ Supreme Court.  

Some background for those new to this issue--- Back in April of 2015, the Hoboken Board of Education voted to continue the lawsuit against the Hola Dual Language Charter School expansion to 8th grade and that the appeal would be funded via private funding. 

A fact sometimes lost in the confusion, is that the Hola Dual Language School was originally intended to be a program within the Hoboken Public Schools. Unfortunately, despite endorsements by the then Superintendent of Schools and the Assistant to the Superintendent of Schools, the dual language school (Hola) was rejected by every sitting Kids First member of the then Hoboken Board of Education. Seems like the Kids First dominated Hoboken Board of Eduction did not want a dual language program in the traditional publics schools in 2009 (thus depriving the district of over 250 new students) and they also wanted the Commissioner to neither renew Hola's charter or approve its expansion in 2014-15 (essentially dismantling an award winning and state recognized dual language charter school). Fortunate for everyone involved in this issue, facts, and well supported arguments have been trumping scare tactics and fanaticism. -Dr. Petrosino 

In a recent story published online by NJ.COM, the families of 21 students at Hoboken Dual Language Charter School known as "HoLa" have been nervously anticipating a decision about their school's plan to expand to seventh and eighth grade. For those families, some good news has come -- but the appeal battle against the expansion, waged by the Hoboken Board of Education, is raging on.
On May 28, New Jersey Education Commissioner David Hespe sent a letter to Hoboken saying that its motion to stay Hespe's March 20 ruling, which re-affirmed the charter's previously approved expansion, was denied (see letter below). He said the district failed to provide evidence showing that his March 20 decision was "arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable."

Hoboken parent Jon Messner, whose children attend fifth and third grade at HoLa, said the waiting has been a stressful ordeal. "We had no reason to think there would be a reason to look elsewhere as we had the decision... and now we have to just wait and hope," he said.
The May 28 ruling was "great news," said Messner, who likes HoLa because the students are taught all their subjects in Spanish, and become truly bilingual.

Interim Superintendent Richard Brockel did not immediately return a request for comment on Wednesday. HoLa founder and board president Barbara Martinez was elated.
"We got approval twice already. They are not likely to prevail," she said. "We hope that the Hoboken Board of Education finally stops trying to harm a really good public school option for Hoboken families."

In its April 15 motion to stay the March 20 ruling, Hoboken's BOE spoke of segregation and the alleged unsustainable financial impact of charters (independently run public schools financed with public money) on taxpayers. It claimed Hespe's analysis "was patently inadequate and flawed."

According to the district's motion, about 37 percent of HoLa students are minorities, versus 69 percent of the district's enrolled students. About 11 percent of HoLa students qualified for free and reduced lunch, versus 9, 40, 52 and 88 percent of students at Hoboken's traditional public elementary schools.

Hoboken's lawyer, Eric Harrison, says the fight isn't over -- the district expected this decision and will file a motion with the appellate division, hoping to get a ruling before HoLa's new seventh grade students' 2015-2016 school year. "Hoboken still believes in the merit of its appeal and it's out of a desire to protect everybody, including the parents, that we are seeking this stay," he said. The district has spent $50,000 on the fight, according to the Star-Ledger.