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Union subpoenas Klein, DOE brass in closing schools suit

The UFT on March 5 issued a subpoena and deposition notices to compel former Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and 11 other Department of Education officials to testify about the DOE’s failure to live up to its promise to provide resources and support to the threatened schools.

The subpoenas are part of a continuing lawsuit filed in March 2011 by the UFT, NAACP, parents and elected officials over the DOE’s plans to close a group of city schools. The union alleges that the DOE failed to provide the additional services it had promised to help 19 schools, two of which the DOE has since closed and 15 of which it voted to close last year.

“Joel Klein and the DOE abandoned these schools, their students and teachers,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said. “The public deserves to know who was responsible for these failing schools, and why the services these students were promised never materialized.”

Last July, New York State Supreme Court Justice Paul G. Feinman denied a request by the UFT and the other plaintiffs for an injunction to immediately halt the planned closings, but the judge allowed the underlying case, which charges the DOE with “a total abdication of any obligation to provide assistance to schools,” to proceed.

Resources are so low and things so bad at the Bronx’s Christopher Columbus HS, one of the schools named in the lawsuit, that Chapter Leader Donald March suggested arrest warrants would be more fitting than subpoenas.

“We’re fighting every single day for the most basic supplies. There are no books, nothing.” March said. “Supply boats can’t make it through the blockade.”

In a stinging rebuke of the DOE, a state judge in March 2010 had declared the Panel for Educational Policy’s votes to close the 19 schools “null and void,” ruling that the DOE violated new state governance law provisions created to provide meaningful community input in decisions involving the closing or phasing out of schools. In light of that ruling, the DOE worked with the UFT to craft strategies to help the schools improve. In the ensuing settlement agreement, the DOE promised additional staff and supports, curriculum review, professional development for staff and the appointment of a joint committee of teachers and administrators to oversee implementation of the agreement.

The 2011 lawsuit charges that the DOE walked away from those promises and pursued the closure of the majority of the same schools the following year. In many cases, the lawsuit charges, the extra staff never materialized and support services for English language learners and special education students never improved.

Any failure by Klein or the other named DOE officials to comply with the subpoena or notices of deposition could result in contempt of court charges.

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