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UFT, NAACP, elected officials, parents, sue to halt closing and co-location plans for dozens of public schools
Urge court to halt closings of schools that DOE promised to help, and to bar charter co-locations that penalize public school students
May 18, 2011
Schools that are part of the new UFT closing schools litigation
(Schools in italics were part of last year’s closing school lawsuit)
- MS 571
- Bronx Academy High School
- IS 195 Roberto Clemente
- John F. Kennedy High School
- Pacific High School
- Performance Conservatory High School
- PS 102 Joseph O. Loretan
- Academy for Collaborative Education
- Academy for Environmental Science
- Beach Channel High School
- Christopher Columbus High School
- Frederick Douglass Academy III (middle school grades)
- Global Enterprise High School
- Jamaica High School
- Kappa II
- Metropolitan Corporate Academy
- Monroe Academy for Business and Law
- New Day Academy
- Norman Thomas High School
- Paul Robeson High School
- PS 332 Charles H. Houston
- School for Community Research and Learning
The UFT, joined by the NAACP, community groups, elected officials and parents, on May 18 brought suit in New York State Supreme Court to halt the proposed closing of 22 schools, including 15 that the UFT and the NAACP successfully sued to keep open last year. The suit also seeks to halt the co-location or expansion of 20 charter schools that would take space and facilities away from students in public school buildings.
The lawsuit asserts — among other charges — that the Department of Education ignored agreements it had reached as part of last year's litigation to provide specific assistance to help many of the schools it tried to close last year. It also charges that the DOE has ignored its legal obligation to seek the approval of the state’s Commissioner of Education before it shutters a number of the schools.
In terms of co-locations, the plaintiffs accuse the Panel for Educational Policy of approving plans that illegally give charter school students more access to school facilities, including libraries, auditoriums and lunchrooms, than students in the public schools that would share their buildings.
UFT President Michael Mulgrew said, "Last year our lawsuit on closing schools demonstrated clearly that the city's Department of Education, much as it might want to be, is not above the law. But the DOE doesn't seem to have learned its lesson.”
“The Department is still trying to inappropriately close schools, including most of the schools involved in last year's court case, even after walking away from its written agreement to help those schools improve. It is also violating the state law that governs co-locations, ignoring its obligation to make sure that district school children have the same access to public facilities as do charter students."
Ken Cohen, Regional Director, New York State Conference of the NAACP, said: “The NAACP has worked feverishly to serve the children of New York City. But today — just one-day after the 57th anniversary of the landmark Civil Rights Education case Brown vs. The Board of Education — we file suit in a similar fashion. With the focus on education reform we find there has been a rush to judge and condemn schools and not enough effort to provide the quality education that the original case sought.”
Billy Easton, Executive Director of the Alliance for Quality Education (AQE) said: "Once again the Bloomberg administration is acting as if it is above the law. They are ignoring an agreement they entered into as well state law and Commissioner's regulations. It is time for the political agendas to stop and to put the focus on improving these schools. Having no strategy other than closing these schools is an abdication of the DOE's responsibility to these students. ."
Co-petitioners in the lawsuit include: State Senators Eric Adams, Tony Avella, and Bill Perkins; Assembly Member Alan Maisel; Bronx Borough President Reuben Diaz, Jr.; Council Members Charles Barron, Robert Jackson, Letitia James, Stephen Levin, Erik Martin Dilan, , Mark Weprin, Ruben Wills; parents Zakiyah Ansari; Belinda Brown; Janice LaMarche; Hector Nazario; and James Orr.
The lawsuit asks the court to halt both the school closings and the co-locations/expansions unless and until the DOE obeys the laws and agreements that govern such decisions.
2010 lawsuit halted DOE closing strategy
In February 2010, the UFT, the NAACP and other groups and individuals sued the DOE for violating the state law that covers school closures in its attempt to shutter 19 schools. In March 2010 State Supreme Court Judge Joan Lobis found that the city's process contained "significant violations" of state law and declared the PEP votes to close the schools "null and void."
The city and the DOE appealed, but in July a five-judge panel of the appellate division unanimously affirmed Judge Lobis's ruling, citing the DOE's significant "statutory violations" in the process.
Charge DOE ignored improvement plans
In the wake of the court decisions, the UFT attempted to work with the DOE to craft strategies to help these schools improve and avoid closure in the future. The Settlement Agreement worked out with the DOE included promises by the DOE for additional staff and supports, curriculum review and improvement, professional development for staff and the appointment of joint committees of teachers and administrators to oversee the schools' attempts to address their problems.
But, the suit charges, the DOE "failed to comply with the Settlement Agreement in good faith." In many cases, the lawsuit charges, the extra staff never materialized and support services for ELL and special ed students, rather than being supplemented, actually declined.
Instead of working to build up the schools it had tried to close, the DOE has posted notice that it intends to close 15 schools in the original lawsuit, along with 7 more that are the subject of this lawsuit.
SURR/PLA schools cannot be closed without state permission
The suit also charges that the DOE has further violated state law because a majority of the 22 schools (including 12 in the original suit) fall into the state's category of Schools Under Registration Review (SURR) and/or Persistently Low Achieving (PLA) and cannot be closed without specific permission from the state's Commissioner of Education.
Co-locations require equity in treatment for all students
In May 2010 the Legislature amended state education law to require the city's Department of Education to create and publish a Building Utilization Plan whenever it planned to move a charter school into a district school building.
The law mandated that these plans include, among other features, the actual allocation of classrooms and the sharing of instructional and administrative space between the district and the charter school; an equitable allocation of common space such as gyms, cafeterias and libraries; the establishment of a shared space committee to make further decisions on use of space; details of safety and security measures; and communication strategies for the shared schools.
But, the lawsuit charges, the Panel for Education Policy violated the law in February and March of 2011 when it voted — without meeting the law's requirements — to co-locate 20 charters in district schools in Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn, including the Harlem Success Academy, Bronx Success, KIPP schools, Girls Prep and others.
Charge that charter students get more access
In PS 114 in Brooklyn, for instance, the DOE Building Utilization Plan approved by the PEP called for PS 114 students to have use of the gym for three-and-a-half hours every day, while Explore Charter School — which has one-third the number of students — gets the space for almost three hours, and gets the playground for more time than do the students of PS 114.
A similar situation applies in the Bronx, where PS 30 and Bronx Success Academy 1 have identical time in the gym — though PS 30 has twice the number of students at the charter school.
PS 308 in Brooklyn is already so overcrowded that the school lunch schedule begins at 10:15 a.m. and its gym is so small that the school has to use a classroom for some gym periods; students are already being taught in hallways and closets in PS149/207 in Manhattan. But the PEP has voted to add a charter school — Teaching Firms of America — that will make these overcrowded conditions even worse.
The lawsuit cites a March 2011 decision by State Education Commissioner David Steiner, in which Steiner, relying in part on the standards set by the court in last year's school closing case, reversed a co-location planned for Brooklyn's PS 9. Steiner found that the DOE's plan to move Brooklyn East Charter School into PS 9's building involved “a substantive failure to analyze the impact" of such a move.