More than 100 people boarded three charter buses, which dropped them off across the street from the diocese’s headquarters near Prospect Park. Carrying signs, the students and parents settled behind a barricade and chanted slogans such as, “We’re here to learn, not for you to earn.”
Claudia Valdes, a parent of two children at MVP, said they organized the demonstration to demand that the diocese drop a lawsuit against Christ the King that would effectively shut down the popular middle school.
“We’re concerned for our students’ education,” she said. “We want our students to continue to go to school in the school they love.”
The legal dispute dates back to 1976, when the Brooklyn Diocese first gave six Catholic high schools property and an endowment for $1. In exchange, the schools promised to “always serve to house a Catholic High School,” according to the diocese.
If the property stopped serving that purpose, the property would be given back to the diocese.
Though the legal agreement has expired, the diocese said all of the other school boards still honor the “spirit of this agreement” except for Christ the King. In 2011, against the diocese’s wishes, Michael Michel, the president of Christ the King, founded MVP and began enrolling students.
In a letter to the parents, students and faculty of MVP, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio said the diocese is still willing to give Christ the King consent to run the charter school, as long as they adhere to the same conditions that are applied to other Catholic schools.
“For reasons not yet fully known, the officials at CTK refused to cooperate,” DiMarzio wrote. “Sadly, the Diocese was left with no other option than to take legal action, which is unfortunate but necessary.
“The Diocese has an obligation, in justice, to defend the intentions of the countless faithful who were dedicated to the education of their children,” he added, “and gave generously so that the Bishop of Brooklyn could build high schools in Brooklyn and Queens.”
The diocese also went after Christ the King officials, whom they said disregarded the concerns of the diocese and failed to inform the parents of MVP about the ongoing legal dispute after allowing students to register.
In a statement, the Brooklyn Diocese specifically targeted Michel. DiMarzio asked the MVP community to encourage him to accept the offer, sign the reverter agreement and return to normalcy.
“If Mr. Michel truly believes in education and cares about his students, he will honor a promise made to the church decades ago,” the diocese said. “We ask Mr. Michel and the board of CTK to do the right thing.”
Caught in the middle of the dispute are the parents and students of MVP, who spoke highly of the charter school and the positive effect it has had on students.
“The school has a good recipe between dedicated, passionate teachers and children who are being challenged and guided,” Valdes said. “You can’t help but find success.”
She said she wasn’t sure what she would do if Middle Village Prep closed, considering that School District 24 is already overcrowded. Valdes would consider homeschooling if that happened, she said.
“Settle this issue so that my children’s education is not in jeopardy,” she said. “Don’t keep my kids as pawns in a game of chess. They’re not to be used.”
In a letter to the bishop, Community Education Council 24 president Nick Comaianni wrote the closure of MVP would have a “devastating impact” on the overcrowded district.
“The influx of 400 new students displaced by your actions would make a terrible situation even worse,” he wrote.
Kelly O’Neill, a Middle Village resident and sixth-grade student at MVP, said she doesn’t want her school to close because she felt she has thrived in the environment.
“If it did close, I’d have to go back to my old school, where I got bullied every year,” she said. “All the people here, they’re all so kind and generous and are willing to help you.”
She praised the teachers for coming early, leaving late and dedicating time to help students.
“I’m not going to let it close,” O’Neill said. “I love it here.”
After hours of chanting, protestors crossed the street and sat on the lawn in front of the diocese’s offices. Bishop DiMarzio emerged from the building to briefly address the demonstrators.
“We will keep your school open, but it’s up to the board of Christ the King to negotiate with the Diocese because they started the school without permission,” he said. “That’s what the court told us, so what we can do is follow what the court told us. They have to come and talk to us.”
DiMarzio insisted that he wants to keep the school open, but urged the parents and students to talk to Christ the King’s board and convince them to come to the table to negotiate.
“We have to get the school building back, it belongs to the Diocese,” he said. “They can have the charter school.”
Valdes asked DiMarzio if he would consider keeping the school open past June while negotiations continue.
“No, there’s no way,” DiMarzio said. “We’ve spent seven years working on this. It has come to a point that they have to negotiate now for September.”
Valdes responded that “September is right around the corner.”
Delvis Valdes, Claudia’s husband and a candidate for the City Council in Sunset Park, pointed out to the bishop that parents and children have been “left out” of the equation.
“The school doesn’t belong to you, it belongs to the board that they set up and started without permission, which they were not allowed to do,” DiMarzio said. “What legally are we supposed to do?”
Before he returned inside, an MVP student cried and asked the bishop the drop the lawsuit.
He responded by telling her to talk to the Christ the King board.
“We will let you get to school, don’t worry about it,” he said. “Don’t cry today.”
Queens Supreme Court will hear arguments about the case on June 13. Parents and students plan to be in the courthouse for the hearing.