2010-04-02 / Front Page

BCHS Gets Reprieve; Bloomberg Vows To Fight

By Howard Schwach
Beach Channel High School and 18 other schools that were slated to be shut down by the Department of Education got a reprieve late last week when a judge ruled that the city engaged in “significant violations” of the new state law governing the mayor’s control of the public schools.

Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Joan Lobis ordered the city to start the process all over again, this time “with meaningful community involvement.”

The decision was a victory for the UFT and the NAACP, the two groups that instituted the lawsuit to stop the closings, arguing that the mayor has failed to comply with the law, which requires the DOE to provide a detailed educational-impact statement describing the effect of the closing on the students and the surrounding area, and then to hold public hearings on the plan.

Locals, including Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, who helped author the new school law, effectively argued that the fact that nobody from the DOE at the public question-and-answer session could answer the questions put by parents, teachers and students nullified the law. Other closing schools had similar problems, UFT officials said.

After the hearing, Pheffer wrote a letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg arguing that the meeting did not fulfill the requirements of the law.

“The NYCDOE has remained steadfast in their actions to close BCHS and issued the document, Proposal for Significant Change in Utilization of School Building Q410, released on December 7, 2009.” Pheffer wrote. “This document details the justification for closure of BCHS and the actions that will be taken. These actions appear to be in non-compliance with the NYS School Governance Laws.” Pheffer continues, “The School Governance Law, Chapter 345 of 2009, contains regulations and procedures that must be strictly adhered to. However, it is also essential that the intent of the legislation not be dismissed, which was to “provide for greater parental participation and input, transparency, and accountability in relation to the management and operation of the New York City School District.

“I have been informed that the meeting held at BCHS on January 6, 2010 by the NYCDOE was in fact the meeting that is mandated to be held under §2590-h, subdivision 2-d,” she added, “which requires that

the chancellor or his or her designee, shall hold a joint public hearing with the impacted community council and school based management team.’ These actions seem to be in direct conflict with §2590-h, subdivision 2, which states that, ‘the chancellor shall consult with the affected community district education council before: a) substantially expanding or reducing such an existing school or program within a community district; b) initially utilizing a community district school or facility for such a school or program; c) instituting any new program within a community district.’ ”

This week, Pheffer told The Wave that she believes the DOE looked at the law and interpreted it in it’s own way.

“We tightened the law specifically in this area, and the DOE has to understand what that law says, what it means,” she said. “They read the rules and saw what they wanted to see. They went ahead and interpreted it in their own way and they got caught interpreting it the wrong way. There was no parent participation, no parent notice, no consultation, all the things required by the law. I don’t think the DOE purposefully ignored the law, but they are stupid if they did. The UFT is watching them.”

Pheffer added that the outcome would probably be the same after the DOE conducts proper hearings under the law, because the mayor and the DOE want to close the schools.

“They know everybody, including the court, is watching them now, and they will have to obey the law,” she says.

UFT officials responded positively to the judge’s decision.

“Today, the court has told the mayor and the Department of Education that they are not above the law,” said Michael Mulgrew, the UFT president.

The mayor immediately stated that he would appeal the judge’s decision and that he would move ahead with placing students in the new schools he had already slated for the closing schools.

Chancellor Joel Klein said on Monday, “To provide options for those students who selected a school originally slated for phase-out as one of their choices, we will run the matching process again including schools originally slated for phase-out. If a student is matched to one of those schools, he or she will be able to choose between that school and the school he or she was matched to in the main round. If the court’s decision is overturned on appeal, the student will attend the school he or she was matched to in the main round.”

Klein, however, pledged to move ahead with the closings, saying that the UFT-NAACP lawsuit served only the teachers and that he would not force students into “failing schools.”

“The pity is that the union sued to keep kids in failing schools if it saves them jobs,” Klein told New York Post reporter Yoav Gonen.

And, while officials say they have not decided how to handle the fall-out from the lawsuit, Chris Petrillo, a BCHS senior who has been leading the fight to keep his school open, told The Wave on Monday that a number of students had come to the school to enroll.

“There is a lot of over-the-counter action,” Petrillo said.

A new school, the Rockaway Park School for Environmental Sustainability, is slated to open its doors with a ninth-grade class in September.

City Councilman Eric Ulrich, who had led the political fight to keep the school open, and who got all of the Queens City Council delegation to sign a pro-BCHS petition, said, “When the news broke, I was elated. I thought that it was great news. It is a shame, however, that the UFT had to sue to get relief from the DOE for the community.”

“When you fight a fire, you don’t put it out and start three other fires,” Ulrich added, referring to the new schools that would be coming to the BCHS campus to replace the present comprehensive high school.

In order to justify adding the new school even if BCHS takes in a freshman class this September, the DOE released statistics to Ulrich that show that only 113 of 152 incoming ninth graders in last year’s freshman class came from Rockaway – 74 from Far Rockaway; 21 from Arverne; 12 from Rockaway Beach and six from Rockaway Park.

Student Petrillo says, however, that the court decision is a good first step to keep the school open.

“This should give us at least a year to prove that the school deserves to remain open,” the student said. “If not, then we’ll take up the fight again next year, when the DOE starts the process all over again.”

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