2010-11-05 / Top Stories

DOE Set To Close BCHS – Again!

By Howard Schwach

As Yogi Berra might have said, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

The Department of Education (DOE) has announced that it will close 47 schools over the next few years, including Beach Channel High School, which it attempted to phase out and close last year, until a state judge put a stop to the entire process.

Last year, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that 19 schools would be closed, including Beach Channel High School.

Two meetings were held at the high school, the first with a district representative who handled the elementary schools and could answer none of the questions that were asked by parents, staff and students.

The second was run by a member of the city’s Panel for Educational Policy, who would take no questions from the floor.

The panel then voted to phase out and close all of the schools.

In July, however, state appellate court upheld a state Supreme Court ruling that the Department of Education must begin the public process anew if it wished to close Beach Channel High School and the 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 information 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 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.”

In September, the DOE placed a new school in the building, the Rockaway Park High School for Environmental Sustainability.

Siting the new school along with Beach Channel High School and the Channel View School for Research has created some friction in the building, with grievances and repercussions flowing in all directions.

Now, the DOE is ready to begin the process anew.

This time, a spokesperson for the DOE says, it will be different.

To reduce the anger that the announcements of the closings created last year, the city has a new process planned.

At least four meetings will be held at each building to allow students, staff and parents to be heard on the closings before the final decision is made.

“Right now, we are looking at those schools that have been constantly struggling to determine whether they can improve with help or need to be replaced with other schools,” said Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld, a DOE spokesperson.

The final decision on which schools will go through the phase-out and closure process will be made in mid- December, but one expert close to the process said that the 19 schools slated for closure last year, including Beach Channel High School, are sure to be on the list.

Zarin-Rosenfeld told The Wave on Monday that the four meetings would include one with the school administration, another with parents, a third with the School Leadership Team and UFT and the fourth with the public.

In Beach Channel High School’s case, he said, the meetings are planned between November 8 and November 19, but no firm dates have yet been scheduled.

Both the public meeting and the meeting with parents will be open to the community, Zarin-Rosenfeld said.

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