New Lessons in Class

NEST school kerfuffle pits working class, one rich visionary against slightly privileged middle tier

Perez, the mother of the future sixth-grader, read about all the things the Ross school will offer and filed an application instantly. "We come from a poor background, and my daughter's school doesn't have a lot to offer," she says. When she heard that her daughter had won a slot last month, she adds, "I was ecstatic."

Now the PTA suit could cause the loss of the entire Ross Global charter.

"NEST parents are literally trying to put the Ross school out of business," says Daniel Greenberg, an attorney representing Ross. When the school received its charter in January, he notes, nobody at NEST sued. "If tomorrow Ross were to say, 'We will leave,'—which it won't do—nobody at NEST would continue to say, 'Wait, there are technical difficulties to your charter.'"

At court hearings this month, parents from both schools packed into courtrooms, spilling out from the benches into the hall. They separated into sections, each sizing up the other. At times, sparks have flown.

Once, during a break, two Ross parents huddled, whispering about what they described as the insanity of NEST's suit. A NEST parent leaned in and interjected, "What about what your school is doing to our kids?"

"Why do you have to challenge the charter?" one Ross parent retorted.

Another NEST parent scolded, "Stop being so antagonistic!"

Later, the Ross mother, Greta Schiller, expressed shock at the heated exchanges. "I didn't think that we would have to defend ourselves from these aggressive attacks," says Schiller, whose daughter will be a fifth-grader at Ross. Standing in the hall during another break, she recalls a NEST parent asking if she was from Ross. "The woman starts attacking me. She says, 'You don't have to ruin our school.'"

Some Ross parents are worried about trouble their kids might face when they walk into the NEST building next fall—as they expect to do, lawsuit notwithstanding. "It feels like we've invaded their territory," says Perez. Will the hostility translate into retaliation? Will her daughter experience threats? Or attacks? Who will make the peace?

"I'm a little frightened about the whole situation," Perez confides.

Ross parents have kept their kids out of the fight. Last week, their parents' association voted not to let any Ross students speak with the press. Explains Schiller, who attended the meeting, "There is adult business and children's business, and parents feel strongly that you don't send your children on the front lines to do your battles."

The official word from the department of education is that all will be fine. Anger will fade, tensions ease. Ross is optimistic. "I am confident that we will be able to work together—we have to, for the children," she writes.

NEST students seem less convinced. One sixth-grader named Max has attended three protests with his father so far, and he plans to keep it up. "I'm going to fight as hard as I can to prevent this from happening," he says. Asked about the possibility that Ross students arrive, Max shrugs his shoulders. It seems like something he doesn't wish to contemplate.

Neither do NEST parents. Not yet, anyway. "People keep asking me 'What is the plan B? What if Ross moves in? How are we going to make it work?' " Buffington says. "But I'm not going to the 'What if' stage yet."

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