NY Dept. of Education Sued Over School Closings

NY Dept. of Education Sued Over School Closings

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NEW YORK -- Teachers (UFT), the NAACP and elected officials have joined forces to block the Bloomberg administration and the Department of Education (DOE) from closing schools throughout New York City.

Last week, the UFT, along with a group of elected officials, community organizations, parent advocacy groups and the NAACP, filed a lawsuit in the New York State Supreme Court to thwart the DOE’s attempt to close 22 schools. Fifteen of those schools were saved from closure last year by a similar lawsuit brought against the Bloomberg administration and the DOE. The lawsuit also calls for the stopping of the co-location or expansion of 20 charter schools that would take up space in public school buildings. New York State Sens. Eric Adams, Tony Avella and Bill Perkins are co-petitioners in the lawsuit.

Some of the schools on the DOE’s chopping block include Christopher Columbus High School and John F. Kennedy High School in the Bronx, Jamaica High School in Queens, Norman Thom- as High School in Manhattan and Paul Robeson High School in Brooklyn.

“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,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew. “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.”

Billy Easton, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education, echoed similar sentiments. “Once again the Bloom- berg administration is acting as if it is above the law,” he said. “They are ignoring an agreement they entered into, as well as state law and the commissioner’s regulations. It is time for the political agendas to stop and to put the focus on improving these schools.”

New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott fired back at the lawsuit in a scathing public statement, accusing the UFT and public school parents of denying their children an education in order to preserve self-interest.

“It is outrageous that the UFT has today taken steps to try to keep students in failing schools and block families from access to better options in the fall,” said Walcott. “This shameful lawsuit is about one thing— protecting jobs for adults at the expense of what is best for our children. Over the past several years, we have had enormous success replacing some of our lowest-performing schools with new schools that are serving our students far better. No one should be consigned to a school where 50 percent of its students do not graduate. New York City families deserve better.

“Finally, the UFT’s decision to wait until the middle of May to file this lawsuit is both cruel and irresponsible—it will create enormous stress and uncertainty for the 70,000 students matched to high schools this September, and the thousands of families who have already gone through the charter lottery process,” continued Walcott. “Every day that our students spend in a failing school does deeper and deeper damage to their prospects of succeeding in life. That is why we will do everything we can to defeat this lawsuit and fight for what is in the best interest of our children.”

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg added fuel to the fire during his weekly radio program, which airs on WOR- AM (710). In commenting on the lawsuit and the parents who are behind it, Bloomberg cited their lack of educational knowledge as a reason for their sup- port of the suit. “Unfortunately there are some parents who just come—they never had a formal education and they don’t under- stand the value of education,” said Bloomberg. “The old Norman Rockwell family is gone.”

“How dare he? And how disrespectful of him to think we don’t have the brainpower— whether we have a PhD or an eighth-grade education—to know what we want for our children?” said Zakiyah Ansari, a public school parent who has joined the UFT lawsuit. Bill de Blasio also joined in the reaction to Bloomberg’s radio statements, saying the mayor should stop seeing public school parents as “problems.”

Bloomberg’s spokesperson Marc LaVorgna said that Bloomberg feels “if schools are persistently failing our students, they should be replaced with schools that work.”