2010-07-09 / Top Stories

Appeals Court Slams Mayor On School Closings

Upholds Lower Court, Process Must Start Anew
By Howard Schwach

A state appellate court has upheld a state Supreme Court ruling that the Department of Education must begin the public process anew if it wishes to close Beach Channel High School and 18 other schools.

The ruling, by the Appellate Division, First Department, in Manhattan, upheld the lower court ruling that said that the DOE did not comply with the 2009 state law on mayoral control of the schools because it failed to adequately notify the public about the ramifications of the closings and because it did not allow for comment by all the stakeholders that would be impacted by the closing.

“In particular, each [Educational Impact Statement] fails to indicate, as required by law, the ramifications of such school closings or significant change in school utilization to any affected students,” the appellate court ruling said. “Rather, each EIS merely indicates the number of school seats that will be eliminated as a result of the proposed phase-out and states that the seats will be recovered through the phase-in of other new schools or through available seats in existing schools in the district and city. While the statute does not specify the infor- mation that an EIS should include to portray the impact of a proposed phase-out on the community or the students, respondents did not discharge their obligation by providing nothing more than boilerplate information about seat availability. Clearly, the Legislature contemplated that the school community would receive more information than this from the EIS,” the ruling said.

The court also ruled that “in the case of each subject school, respondents failed to hold a joint public hearing with the impacted community council and the [school-based management team] as required by [the education law].”

“Based on the foregoing, the [lower court] properly nullified the PEP votes,” the upper court added.

In response to the ruling, Chancellor Joel Klein issued a statement that said, in part, “We are disappointed by the court’s decision, which will force us to keep open schools that are failing our children. As we move forward, the mayor and I remain committed to providing New York City’s students and families with better schools and more options. To that end, we are proceeding with plans to open new schools in the fall.”

The Department of Education’s insistence on placing a new school, the Rockaway Park High School of Environmental Sustainability, in the BCHS building has caused lots of ill will between the present staff and representatives of the new school.

Dave Pecoraro, the school’s UFT chairperson, believes that the court’s order to halt the phase-out should also put a halt to the new school.

“The decision refers to school utilization,” Pecoraro told The Wave this week. “It doesn’t allow the DOE to do anything in the school building until the process is completed the correct way.”

A spokesperson for the DOE says, however, that “one thing has nothing to do with the other.”

“We will redo the phase-out procedure the proper way, we will obey the law,” the spokesperson said. “At the same time, we will continue with our plans to place the new school in the building to better service the students of Rockaway. The Court’s decision relates to the closure of failing schools, not the opening of new schools. We are moving forward with plans to open new schools.”

Because of the uncertainty about the school, officials say that only 21 students have registered for Beach Channel High School’s freshman class, slated to begin in September.

It is unclear, however, how many students have registered for the Rockaway Park High School of Environmental Sustainability, because, a DOE spokesperson says, the city agency is still in the process of contacting students to find out their school choice for September.

“Only some of the students who will be part of Beach Channel’s incoming freshman class have been entered into the DOE’s computer system at this point. We do not yet know the final number of students that will be in the freshman class, but we expect that it will be higher than what is currently in the system,” said DOE spokesperson Danny Kanner. “We are actively reaching out to students we haven’t heard from to determine which school they would like to attend.”

Pecoraro, the outspoken United Federation of Teachers Chapter Chairman for the building, however, thinks he knows.

“I have heard that the new school has registered about 100 students,” Pecoraro told The Wave on Tuesday. “Officials for the new school have been moving aggressively to get us to vacate. They ordered us out of the math office and out of the teacher lounge.”

Pecoraro says that he and his teachers are not moving to make way for the interlopers.

“We have a court order, which I believe does not allow for the creation of a new school,” he said. This has become acrimonious and I will have her [the new school’s assistant principal] arrested if she touches the material that belongs to Beach Channel High School. I will personally sign the criminal complaint against them.”

“It might have been funny at the beginning,” he added. “There is nothing humorous in the situation created by the Department of Education. Not any longer.”

Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued a statement blaming the teachers for “forcing children into failing schools.”

“The union should be out there advocating for better schools,” Bloomberg said. “This does not help us get better schools.”

“The mayor sure gets cranky when he loses,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew. “Especially when he loses to the UFT and the NAACP.”

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Below is a copy of my letter

Below is a copy of my letter to the Editor, emailed under separate cover today, for publication in next week's Wave. As an alumnus of Far Rockaway High School, I have experienced a profound sense of loss associated with the closing of my school. I have never, however, resorted to assigning blame for its closure to the new schools which replace it to serve the needs of today’s students. Conversely, as a concerned citizen and parent, I have always wished them great success in their all important mission of educating our next generation. My sincere hope for their success, and the success of all schools in fulfilling that mission, has been a revered part of my value system long before I had the slightest inkling that my daughter, Jennifer Connolly, would be the founding principal of Rockaway Park High School for Environmental Sustainability. I have followed with disappointment your coverage of Rockaway Park High School for Environmental Sustainability in the pages of my hometown newspaper, The Wave. I deeply value the importance of an objective, unbiased press and find the continued linkage of the news surrounding the opening of this innovate school in the Rockaways with opinion surrounding Beach Channel High School to be a disservice to readers and to the Rockaway community at large. In my admittedly biased capacity as Jennifer’s proud parent, I have held my tongue while the pages of The Wave have misguidedly expressed the concern surrounding the uncertain future of Beach Channel High School by publishing inflammatory opinion about Rockaway Park High School for Environmental Sustainability and its principal. In my capacity, however, as a sentimental third-generation Rockawayite, I am obligated to publicly address this issue in the hope of beginning the process of healthy dialogue. First and foremost, your readers deserve access to factual and objective reporting about the Rockaway’s newest high school, presented independently from opinion and emotion surrounding Beach Channel High School. Mr. Schwach, please do your homework. Take some time to gather and publish facts and information about Rockaway Park High School for Environmental Sustainability and trust your readers and the community to form their own opinions. Secondly, while I respect the rights of advocates for Beach Channel High School to hold and express strong supporting opinion, I cannot condone the use of rhetoric and personal attack directed at Rockaway Park High School for Environmental Sustainability or its principal. Much ado has been made about the co-location of Rockaway Park High School for Environmental Sustainability with Beach Channel High School in the context of sharing space. Nothing in the pages of The Wave, however, has been presented as to whether or not there is or is not, in fact, ample space available to be shared to offer students educational options, nor has it been mentioned that Rockaway Park High School for Environmental Sustainability will be joining Beach Channel High School and Channel View School for Research in the sharing of space. Comments referring to staff members as “not making room for interlopers” and describing the climate as “acrimonious” fly in the face of the higher values we aspire to teach students. How do we teach students to resolve their inevitable differences amicably, when it appears that some of their educators cannot play nicely in the sandbox without resorting to name calling and threats? I am particularly offended by references made to Nuremberg as well as to race and ethnic origin in the guise of supporting Beach Channel High School. Comments such as these are unacceptable under any circumstances and their use in this context and forum is counterproductive and appalling. Rockaway is a highly diverse, unique peninsula with unmeasured potential, the greatest of which lies in the hearts and minds of its students. We can all do our part in helping it reach its highest potential if we begin by practicing civility and allowing the courts to decide issues of law, our educators to teach by example, the press to report the unbiased facts, and the students to learn. Sincerely, Bari Randal Connolly

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