2010-04-16 / Top Stories

City Appeals Ruling Halting School Closures

Plans For New School Move Ahead
By Howard Schwach

The city has appealed a court decision forcing Department of Education officials to keep open 19 public schools that had been slated to begin a phaseout program in June.

The appeal, which was filed last week in Manhattan Supreme Court, argues that Judge Joan Lobis applied the wrong legal standard in her determination that the public had not been properly included in the decision-making process.

Late last month, Lobis ordered the city to start the process all over again, this time “with meaningful community involvement.”

That 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 governance law, effectively argued that the fact that nobody from the DOE at the public question-andanswer session could answer the questions put by parents, teachers and students nullified the law. Other closing schools had similar problems, UFT officials said.

Pheffer argued that the Mayor had bypassed both the intent and the letter of the law.

After the judge made her ruling in late March, 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.”

Despite the ruling, however, the Department of Education said that it would go forward with a new school slated for the Beach Channel High School building.

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

The DOE says that it has “no plans to change course in placing new schools into failing buildings.”

“The court’s ruling involves closing failing schools, not placing new schools in those buildings,” Jack Zarin- Rosenfeld, a DOE press deputy told The Wave on Tuesday. “We are looking to provide better school options for all of our students and we will take the steps necessary to reach that goal.”

David Pecoraro, the UFT Chapter Leader for BCHS told The Wave on Tuesday that Jennifer Connolly, the assistant principal for the new school, was touring the building on Monday, “interrupting teachers” and claiming rooms that the new school will use in September.

“It was inappropriate and immature for you to go to staff members to claim their rooms that cannot be yours next year in light of Justice Lobis’ ruling invalidating the January PEP vote,” Pecoraro wrote to Connolly. “Her ruling clearly means that you cannot open in September in any Department of Education building.”

On Wednesday morning, students at the Channel View School for Research, a grades 6 to 12 school that shares Beach Channel High School, were told over the loudspeaker system that they could apply for the new schools coming to BCHS next September.

Pecoraro says that the UFT is preparing a “contempt of court” suit against the Department of Education for its actions in moving forward despite Judge Lobis’ ruling.

Connolly was not available for comment.

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