January 9, 2015

Victory for pro bono client results in  much-needed rental assistance for New York City school. 

New York State Education Commissioner John King, Jr. recently found in favor of Willkie’s  pro bono client Great Oaks Charter School-New York City in its appeal against the New York City Department of Education.

Great Oaks is a charter school that opened in August 2013 with an inaugural sixth grade class.  Currently located in Chinatown, Great Oaks has a diverse student body with large percentages of minority, special education and English-language learning students.  On March 31, 2014, the New York state legislature passed a landmark amendment to provide greater access to facilities for new and expanding charter schools in New York City.  Section 2853(3)(e) of the Education Law now provides that charter schools that first commence instruction or that require additional space due to an expansion of grade level and that request co-location in a public school building “shall be provided access to facilities” either (a) in a public school building or (b) in a privately owned or other publicly owned facility at the DOE’s expense and at no cost to the charter school.

On June 27, pursuant to the new statute, Great Oaks requested co-location for its incoming 2014-2015 seventh grade class, as well as the grades to be admitted thereafter, in a public school building.  On December 8, the DOE responded that it did not have appropriate space in a DOE building and therefore could not extend an offer of co-located space.

Great Oaks became the first expanding charter school to challenge the DOE’s denial of access under the law, arguing that the DOE’s failure to provide access to facilities violated lawful procedure, was affected by an error of law, and was arbitrary and capricious.  In one of his last official acts before stepping down from his post, Commissioner King found in favor of Great Oaks, and ordered the DOE to pay Great Oaks—for each remaining year of its charter term, commencing with the 2014-2015 school year—rental assistance based on student enrollment in any newly added grade level(s) for which it has been approved to provide instruction.

This decision will enable Great Oaks to expand and provide a first-class education to students who otherwise would not have such opportunities.  The rental relief awarded by Commissioner King will allow Great Oaks to devote its precious resources where they are most needed: the classroom.

Great Oaks was represented by partner Richard Mancino and associate Christopher McNamara. 

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