May 18, 2011
For the second time in two years, the city teachers union is suing to stop the Bloomberg administration from closing schools and opening new ones in their place.
The union’s lawsuit, which it filed along with the NAACP and a host of elected officials and parents, challenges plans to close 22 of the 26 schools that education officials hope to phase out this year.
Last year, the union successfully stopped the city from closing 19 schools by persuading a State Supreme Court judge that the closures violated various requirements in the state’s education law. These ranged from not following the law about public notification of hearing dates to failing to failing to map out the predicted impact of school closures.
This year, the city took pains to follow public notification rules, beginning the process earlier in the year, and by last month, 26 schools had ended up on the chopping block.
Perhaps as a result, the United Federation of Teachers’ argument against closures this year is broader and more complicated. And unlike last year, the union is also seeking to prevent charter schools from moving into public school buildings, charging that the city did not prove the co-locations would be equitable.
“The department continues to insist that phase-outs and closures of schools and co-locating untested schools is the answer, while depriving the remaining students in those designated, 22 schools of the resources to succeed academically,” said Kenneth Cohen of the NAACP at a press conference this morning.
Chancellor Dennis Walcott — who said he learned about the suit not from UFT President Michael Mulgrew but from a reporter this morning — said he was “saddened” by the suit. As deputy mayor, Walcott decried the NAACP last year for its involvement in the school closure lawsuit because he said the group prevented the city from improving school choices.
“We totally disagree with the union,” Walcott said. “We have met the letter of the law and we will continue to meet the letter of the law as far as these schools are concerned.”
The new suit offers a suite of justifications for why the city’s plans should be stopped. It argues that the city did not keep its promises to help the schools that were originally slated to close last year avoid closure next year. Extra staff and support services that the city promised to provide in a settlement agreement with the union often did not surface, the suit alleges.
(In fact, academic performance at some schools on last year’s closure list has improved so much that the department did not try to close them again this year.)
The suit also argues that Panel for Educational Policy was wrong to approve charter school co-locations when the city had not provided enough information about the co-locations’ impact. And it charges that schools on the state’s lists of failing schools require state approval for closure — a step that has not been a public part of the closure process in recent memory.
This year’s lawsuit includes 15 of the 19 schools in last year’s suit and adds seven more. Four schools that are slated for closure this year are not included in the lawsuit. “These 22 were the strongest cases we have,” said Dick Riley, a UFT spokesman.
Because the lawsuit comes so late in the school year, city officials say that it threatens to upend enrollment and space plans set to go into effect within months. Students have already been admitted to high schools, which make up 15 of the schools named in the lawsuit, and the 18 charter schools the union is seeking to limit have also admitted new students for next year.
“Students who have been accepted will have to wait and wonder,” Walcott said.
Walcott promised that the city would push hard to carry out its plans.
“We’re going to litigate it,” he said. “We will fight to make sure we’re going to phase out those schools.”