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Positive start in UFT’s school closing lawsuit

As a result of legal action taken by a coalition including the UFT and the NAACP, a judge has ordered the Department of Education to halt its process of matching students to high schools. The order is temporary until the judge rules on a preliminary injunction in the coalition’s lawsuit to stop school closures.

At the March 10 hearing on the lawsuit that charges city school officials with willfully failing to follow the new governance law in its campaign to close the 19 schools, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Joan Lobis further instructed the DOE not to notify parents of school matches if their child’s first choice was a targeted school.

If the DOE went ahead with the high school matching process, it would not include the closing schools and therefore not match students with them. Ironically, Columbus HS, one of the targeted schools, already has three times the number of applicants as there are seats.

In the suit, the UFT, joined by the NAACP, parents, state legislators and City Council members, cites the Department of Education and the city Panel for Educational Policy for failing to comply with the provisions governing school closings in the new governance law.

These include conducting an analysis of the impact of the closings on the 13,000 potentially affected students — including the 8th-graders who are expecting their high school assignments by March 24 — and analyzing the impact on nearby, often overcrowded, neighborhood schools. It also charges that the DOE failed to provide appropriate and timely notice of local public hearings to interested groups.

The suit asks the court to annul the votes of the Panel for Educational Policy to close the schools and to order the DOE to comply with state law if and when it redoes the process. The mayor’s eight PEP appointees and the Staten Island appointee voted on Jan. 26 to close the schools (the four other borough appointees cast dissenting votes) at an impassioned nine-hour hearing attended by 3,000 parents, students and educators that lasted until 3 a.m.

As UFT President Michael Mulgrew pointed out when the lawsuit was filed on Feb. 1, “Thousands of parents and students went to local public hearings with very little notice, only to get fragmentary information, boilerplate analysis and meaningless platitudes about these school closings.”

Last year, the mayor and the chancellor publicly supported changes to the governance law advocated by the union that would ensure greater community participation in key decisions such as school closings.

As the union maintains in its lawsuit, the revised governance law is very specific about the DOE’s new obligations. The new provisions require that the chancellor not only draft a detailed Educational Impact Statement for each closing school, but also provide a copy for each affected school and for all key stakeholders.

The chancellor must also conduct a substantive study of the potential impact of each school’s closing on current as well as prospective students and on the community so that parents, students, staff and interested community members have ample time to review and provide feedback on any proposed school closing.

The lawsuit maintains that this did not happen.

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