Organizers of a proposed charter school in the Brentwood and Central Islip districts have tried to suppress participation in public forums to keep critics from speaking out against the project, some public school officials and Assemb. Phil Ramos (D-Brentwood) have charged.
But founders of the Long Island Children's Academy said they had actively encouraged community input.
"No one who has expressed interest from Central Islip or Brentwood has been excluded whether they are in support or against the charter school," read a statement from the group, which declined to give any name for the information it provided.
At issue is the process to sign up for community forums held by charter supporters. Ramos said the group had asked residents to register before the forums in what looked like requiring permission to attend. Participants were told a day before the forum where it would be held, Ramos said Tuesday.
One forum was held Nov. 16 and another is scheduled for Monday but a location has not been announced. The group said it would be held at a Central Islip church but declined to name it.
"In order for them to get their application process considered, they must show they are engaging the community," Ramos said. "There is overwhelming opposition to this charter school and in their attempts to hold public meetings, they have been trying to suppress attendance, so the overwhelming opposition is not that apparent."
Organizers of the charter school said permission was not needed. However, participants did need to register in advance to avoid possible safety violations. The date, time and community in which the forum will be held is provided at the time of registration, they said, adding forum sites can accommodate only 50 people.
A link on the charter's Facebook page opens to a form that residents must fill out if they want to attend a forum.
Charter school founders had submitted an application to the SUNY Charter Schools Institute earlier this year, but withdrew the paperwork in the face of strong opposition from three districts that the school would serve. Their proposal called for a charter school for students in the Bay Shore, Brentwood and Central Islip districts.
According to the website of the Long Island Children's Academy, a new charter school would serve Brentwood and Central Islip students. The statement from the group said it would serve a total of 168 students in grades K-2 initially and expand to 528 students up to sixth grade.
A Brentwood spokesman said the district, the largest on Long Island, remains strongly opposed to any charter school within the Town of Islip.
"In addition, neither the superintendent or the board president or the board members have attended any charter school forums to date -- partly because they have been held in secrecy," Brentwood spokesman Felix Adeyeye said.
Both the SUNY Charter Institute and the state Board of Regents authorize charters, which though privately run get money from school districts.
The group said they planned to apply when the next letters of intent were due to the SUNY Charter Institute on Dec. 11.
According to the state requirements for opening a charter school, the SUNY Trustees may not consider any proposal that does not reflect a meaningful public review process designed "to solicit community input regarding the proposed charter school and to address comments received from the impacted community."
In New York State, teachers, parents, school administrators and community members can submit a proposal to establish a charter school. Long Island has five charter schools -- two in Suffolk County and three in Nassau. Local districts pay the tuition of charter students.