2011-05-27 / Top Stories

Deja-Sue All Over Again

By Howard Schwach

For the second year in a row, the teachers union, NAACP and other advocates filed a lawsuit on May 19 to halt the pending closure of 22 public schools, a move that education officials and Mayor Michael Bloomberg blasted for its potential to dislodge students across the city.

The filing in Manhattan Supreme Court also challenged the placement or expansion of 18 charter schools within buildings housing traditional public schools, on the basis that space wasn’t being split up equitably.

Among the contested closures are 15 schools the groups successfully saved from the chopping block through legal action last year, including Beach Channel High School in Rockaway Park.

United Federation of Teachers officials said the city had failed to provide promised supports to those schools this year, such as extra social workers, before voting once again to phase them out.

State regulations required the city to obtain approval from the state education commissioner before phasing out the remaining seven schools, the lawsuit says. The filing does not challenge the closure of four additional schools.

“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,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew.

The move drew an unusually sharp rebuke from Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, who said it was “mind-boggling” that the union and NAACP would allow kids to remain in persistently low-performing schools.

“This shameful lawsuit is about one thing – protecting jobs for adults at the expense of what is best for our children,” he said.

Walcott also slammed the union for “hold[ing] students hostage” by acting only after kids were matched to new high schools or placed in charter schools by lottery – something that could have a domino-like impact on where students and schools are placed in September.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg went one step further, calling out those who oppose his closings as educational know-nothings.

On his weekly radio show, Bloomberg said, “There are some parents who have never had a formal education and they don’t understand the value of a good education.”

“The old Norman Rockwell family is gone. Some of these kids don’t have families. There’s nobody to stand up for them.”

Mulgrew angrily challenged the mayor’s comment.

“Does the fact that they disagree with the mayor’s agenda mean that they don’t understand education or care about their kids?” he asked. “I don’t think so!”

The process for closing schools was beefed up in 2009 through legislation that renewed mayoral control of schools, while rules for co-locating charter schools were bulked up last year.

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