Letter To The Editor: Here’s Why Urban Dove Needs To Find A Different Location

In response to news of Urban Dove charter school renting school space from the East Midwood Jewish Center, we have received a letter to the editor from Laurie Mermelstein. Mermelstein has lived on the block in the midst of the Urban Dove debate for the last 18 years and writes that legitimate concerns of neighbors are being ignored. 

East 21st Street in Midwood. Liena Zagare/Bklyner

In response to our articles about Urban Dove charter school renting school space from the East Midwood Jewish Center, and the controversy that has caused in the immediate neighborhood, we have received a letter to the editor from Laurie Mermelstein. Mermelstein has lived on the block in the midst of the Urban Dove debate for the last 18 years, and writes that legitimate concerns of neighbors are being ignored.

East Midwood Neighbors’ Concerns Ignored

The peaceful, tree-lined block of East 21St Street between Avenues K & L has come under focus in the debate of relocating Urban Dove (UD) to the former Harry Halpern Day School. Our street consists of modest single-family homes and the aforementioned elementary school building.

When the East Midwood congregation erected the Hebrew day school in 1950 and subsequently expanded the premises in the 1970s, a special permit was required to override the neighborhood’s zoning restrictions. Neighbors did not object as they understood the need for this community institution.

East 21st Street between Avenues K and L. The school building is on the right (Western) side of the one-way street. Liena Zagare/Bklyner

As in all neighborhoods, demographics shifted over the years and the day school suffered from decreased enrollment and eventually closed. For a time, the East Midwood Jewish Center (EMJC) rented the space to another Jewish school but chose not to renew its lease.

This past spring, EMJC entered into negotiations, without any community consultation, with a charter high school, UD, for the East 21st Street building.

The community disruption caused by a new charter school, especially one with behaviorally at-risk students, placed in an area and structure not equipped to handle the additional traffic, should not be ignored and dismissed. Yet our block was first informed months after the term sheet was signed and EMJC only requested community participation in a November 4th letter inviting us to the November 25th meeting.

EMJC School Building on East 21st Street. Liena Zagare/Bklyner

I want to counter the one-sided story currently being disseminated by UD and speak up for my rightfully worried community.

At the November meeting UD’s founder, Jai Nanda, repeatedly and falsely stated that his students are strictly academically high-risk. However, UD’s own application for its Bronx location (May you have a copy/link) attests to gang affiliation at the Brooklyn site.

At the meeting, Mr. Nanda asserted his students love attending UD; then backtracked and admitted that truancy was a significant problem. A ProPublica study confirms that the average UD student misses 31 days of school.

Nanda initially claimed that violence was not an issue at his school until forced to explain that staff carries walkie-talkies so that they can call a “code” when students fight. Fighting seems to be quite common, as a survey conducted by the NYC Dept. of Education found that 63% of UD students say that students get into physical fights either some or most of the time.

When a concerned citizen at the meeting asked about safety outside the school building, Nanda dismissively responded that it’s the NYPD’s job to protect the public.

East 21st Street looking north between Avenues K & L. Liena Zagare/Bklyner

Parents are rightfully afraid that teenagers with a propensity for violence will interfere with their children’s commute. Neighborhood children walk down East 21st Street to and from school because this street has traffic lights at each corner. It’s been the preferred route for parents of young children because of this simple but necessary safety feature. As UD is a high school, there won’t be any crossing guards in the vicinity to look after our kids.

With its narrow corridors, the East Midwood building was clearly not designed for high school use and has only previously been occupied by an elementary school for decades.

EMJC School building that they would like to rent to Urban Dove. Liena Zagare/Bklyner

Furthermore, it is situated approximately a half-mile from the nearest subway station. UD would be better off relocating to a non-residential block with close access to mass transit. A school already plagued by truancy should be conveniently accessible to its students; otherwise, attendance issues will only worsen. In fact, when pressed by politicians for their requirements for an alternate site, UD insisted on a location with close access to two subway lines; a requirement that disqualifies the East Midwood building.

The neighbors of East 21st Street feel betrayed by the board of East Midwood for not reaching out earlier.

Furthermore, rather than acknowledging our legitimate concerns about safety, we have been unfairly branded as racists by UD and EMJC’s newly promoted Rabbi. As we grieve during a time of heightened and terrifying attacks on the local Jewish community, we are being verbally attacked and encroached upon by a charter school that labels us as racists in the face of warranted concerns.

East 21st Street looking south from the school. Liena Zagare/Bklyner

For years we have coexisted in peace with EMJC notwithstanding the inconvenience of having a school on our block. We have tolerated having our driveways blocked and dealt with the previous day school’s disorganized drop-off and dismissal policies.

Neighbors are supposed to look out for each other, but East Midwood has excommunicated itself from the community. We hope reason will prevail and the leadership of both East Midwood and UD will negotiate in good faith for a solution that is acceptable to all sides: a suitable, alternate location for the students and the Midwood community.

Laurie Mermelstein

We welcome letters to the editor and opinion pieces from all our neighbors to be considered for publication – please email submissions to editor@bklyner.com. Opinions are those of the writer. 

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  1. I think every “safe” neighborhood full of liberal voters should indeed get a taste of what they have subjected the not-so-well-off citizens to for the last 50 years. You need to see the actual results of your feel-good virtue signalling. Oh wait until Rikers is closed and the prisons and halfway houses and probation offices start dotting the map around your detached houses with driveways.

  2. The racist bias rhetoric witnessed at the townhall will not be covered up by fear-mongering and false information by this writer. Also, it is disgusting in every manner, how Laurie Mermelstein is using the tragic incidents that have happened to Jewish Community members in Monsey and Jersey city to justify her own bias towards the children of Urban Dove. The Black and Brown children of UD do not have behavioral issues. They have academic issues that UD is tackling due to them not passing certain regents exams in 9th grade. It is time that we stop the divisive tactics and the agenda to try to dilute what is racism and bigotry by certain people and organizations. I will continue to stand with the children of UD and children throughout the whole school system in New York City. I will continue to stand in solidarity with Jewish community members and with EMJC. #NoHateNoFear

  3. Yes everybody is a racist if they want to protect their children and homes and businesses from an invasion of “troubled” youths. Why, it’s the very definition of racism. Since race was never a factor in the debate, though, I am obviously being sarcastic. But you seem to think a discussion of fighting troublemakers and crime must only be referring to one particular race. So maybe there is racism at play.

  4. With all the recent anti-Semitic attacks in Brooklyn being carried out by black youth, no middle class Jewish neighborhood should be subjected to these hooligans and thugs running around the neighborhood terrorizing residents. This UD is nothing but a collection of urban thugs and apes. There is no education being given to these hopeless bums. I would sooner see a jail be erected on East 21 St to contain these bums rather than these animals roam free on the streets of Midwood.

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