A Queens judge deferred from making any new decisions in the ongoing dispute between the Diocese of Brooklyn and Christ the King H.S., when both parties met in court on June 13.
Instead, Queens Supreme Court Judge Marguerite Grays urged both sides to negotiate a settlement regarding the future of Middle Village Preparatory (MVP) Charter School’s presence on Christ the King’s campus.
Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio hoped to arrange a meeting with Christ the King’s board of trustees later this month to reach a resolution, and find a way to keep the charter school open and operating at its current location.
The bishop publicly voiced his desire to keep the public charter school open when he addressed around 100 MVP students and parents who rallied behind a “Drop the Lawsuit, Keep MVP Open” banner outside the diocesan offices in Park Slope June 7.
A banner on the facade of the diocesan offices also read: “Welcome parents and students of MVP. We support you!”
In a letter to the MVP school community also dated June 7 (see below), the bishop said he wants the “very best” for MVP families, but explains that Christ the King opened MVP without his consent, and has refused to cooperate with the diocese.
The bishop noted that Christ the King was notified that the diocese objected to the establishment of a charter school on the premises in 2011 – two years before Christ the King’s president Michael Michel, founded MVP.
While charter schools use or share space in many Catholic schools and parishes all over Brooklyn and Queens, every one operates with the bishop’s consent and full support of the diocese.
After years of attempted negotiations with Christ the King, the bishop explains, “the Diocese was left with no other option than to take legal action, which is unfortunate but necessary.”
Roots of Dispute
The nature of this dispute between the diocese and Christ the King dates back to 1976, when the diocese entrusted six Catholic high schools to lay boards for $1 with the stipulation that the schools, built with the generous donations of the Catholic faithful, would continue to serve Catholic education.
If the school stopped being used for Catholic education, it would be returned, or reverted back to the diocese. And if boards wanted to use the grounds for additional purposes, like the operation of a charter school, then they were required to obtain consent from the diocese.
When this reverter clause expired in 2006, every high school board reaffirmed its agreement with the diocese, except Christ the King, whose board has refused to sign an extension to the original arrangement.
Earlier this year, the court ruled that Christ the King is barred from using the property for a charter school, effective at the end of the academic year.
That judgment is what brought both parties to court this week. Christ the King’s representatives asked the judge to revisit that decision, and to stop any action by the diocese to enforce the order barring them from using the property for a charter school. A motion was also made for MVP to become participants in the case.
When asked for a comment, a representative for Christ the King said that the school did not want to discuss the case before heading to court.
Safety Issues, Overcrowding
Currently, more than 350 students attend MVP, a middle school that is part of public school District 24, which serves the densely populated areas of Corona, Glendale, Sunnyside, Ridgewood, Elmhurst, Long Island City, Maspeth and Middle Village.
“Our local junior high schools are not good. There are safety issues, overcrowding,” said Dawn Sparacio, one of the parents who rallied at the diocesan offices.
A practicing Catholic, she said, the costs of city living preclude her from being able to afford Catholic school. She feels charter school is the next best option and MVP “is one the best ones around.” At MVP, she’s seen her daughter flourish academically, especially in math, where she has progressed from a 30 average to an 87.
“This school works so we’re trying to keep it open,” she said. “It’s just unfortunate that 10- to 14-year-olds are caught in the middle.”
Amie Ahern, a sixth-grade student chanted, “MVP, Let Us Be,” and similar slogans with other classmates and parents in Park Slope. “It’s crazy that we’ve gone this far to try to keep MVP open,” said Ahern.
“Once I heard about the rally, I said I have to go because this (school) is like my second home. The first day I came here I was nervous, but now the whole school is like my family,” she said.
Ahern’s classmate, Kelly O’Neill, a member of the National Junior Honor Society, echoed those sentiments.
“I’m here today because I really don’t want my school to close. I want it to stay open. I’ve met so many nice, beautiful people here,” she said. “It would be a shame to have to leave them all.”
Claudia Valdes, one of the parents who organized the rally, has two children in the school.
“These children are too young to feel any sense of insecurity when discussing their education,” she said. “They’re all very happy, well-adjusted children at Middle Village Prep and to pull the rug from under their feet at the 11th hour, as school is about to close for the summer, is unfair and unjust.”
After the bishop addressed the crowd, she and other parents asked for “a seat at the table” to dialogue with the diocese.
“I’m not into politics, I don’t know about real estate, I don’t know about reverter clauses or contracts. That’s not what’s important to me,” said Caroline O’Neill, mother of Kelly, a sixth grader. “What’s important to me is that my child will continue to be educated come September at Middle Village Prep Charter School, located in Middle Village New York.”
Both Valdes and O’Neill had the chance to talk with Msgr. Anthony Hernandez, diocesan chancellor, as the rally continued outside. In these discussions, it came to light that MVP parents were never informed of the ongoing dispute with the diocese about the use of Christ the King’s building.
Parents also had a chance to speak with representatives from Christ the King and Middle Village Prep after the rally.
“The side I’m on is my daughter’s side. It’s her education,” said O’Neill.
Letter from the Bishop Regarding Middle Village Prep
This is the letter written by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio that was distributed to students, parents and friends of Middle Village Preparatory Charter School when they demonstrated outside the Bishop’s office on Wednesday, June 7:
“Allow me to take this opportunity to welcome you to the central offices of the Diocese of Brooklyn. Please know that I sincerely appreciate your concern and understand how important it is to you that Middle Village Preparatory Charter School (MVP) continues at its current location. As the Bishop of Brooklyn, I want nothing more than the very best for you and Christ the King High School.
“To place the current situation in its proper context, you should know that in 2011 representatives of Christ the King High School (CTK) were informed that consent was required from the Diocese of Brooklyn for them to open a Charter School on the CTK campus. At that time and to the present, I am willing to give that consent, provided that the officials of CTK adhere to the same conditions accepted by all other Catholic regional high schools and parishes in the Diocese. Unfortunately, rather than acting in a manner consistent with all the other high school administrators in the Diocese, and for reasons not yet fully known, the officials at CTK refused to cooperate. Sadly, the Diocese was left with no other option than to take legal action, which is unfortunate but necessary.
“Certainly, we can appreciate that CTK’s inexplicable actions are of little importance to you, at MVP. However, the Diocese has an obligation, in justice, to defend the intentions of the countless faithful who were dedicated to the education of their children and gave generously so that the Bishop of Brooklyn could build high schools in Brooklyn and Queens. It is unfortunate that the officials at CTK, CTKCE, and the founders of MVP (who share common board members) chose to completely disregard the concerns of the Diocese, and failed to inform the parents of MVP of the ongoing dispute prior to allowing them to register their children.
“In an effort to seek an expeditious and appropriate resolution of this matter for all parties, it would be helpful if you and the other parents of MVP encouraged the officials at CTK to accept the exceedingly fair offer, as originally extended, rather than continue to maintain that the Diocese of Brooklyn is at fault and is seeking to harm the school community of MVP. We encourage you to reach out to Mr. Michael Michel, President of CTK and Founder of MVP, and ask him to meet with the Diocese and negotiate in good faith to reach a favorable outcome for all those involved. Mr. Michel may be reached at 718-366-7400 (ext. 262).”