July 21, 2011
A State Supreme Court judge has ruled that the city can move forward with its plans for 22 school closure and 15 co-locations.
In May, the UFT and NAACP filed a suit charging that the city had not adhered to the law and its own promises when planning the closures and charter school co-locations.
In a decision released late tonight, Judge Paul Feinman denied the UFT and NAACP’s request for a preliminary injunction that would have stopped the city from moving forward with its closure and co-location plans while those charges are considered. A temporary restraining order preventing the plans from advancing had been in place since early June.
Feinman’s decision came just hours after State Education Commissioner John King approved 12 of the closures, of schools on the state’s list of “persistently low-achieving” schools. The UFT and NAACP suit had argued that the city could not close schools on that list without state approval.
Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott applauded the decision, which he said validated the Bloomberg administration’s approach to fixing low-performing schools.
“I am incredibly heartened by the court’s decision tonight,” Walcott said in a statement. “I know this decision will come as great comfort and relief to the thousands of children who have been in limbo, wondering what the outcome of this case would be, and for that I am very happy.”
Feinman ruled that the UFT and NAACP had not proven that schools facing closure would have performed significantly better if the city had fulfilled all of the promises set out in an agreement that followed a similar lawsuit last year. That suit resulted in 19 school closures being halted. He also ruled that the Department of Education’s co-location plans — all of which were revised after the lawsuit was filed — contained enough detail to suggest that they were crafted in accordance with the law.
But the ruling did not address the lawsuit’s substantive claims, particularly that the school closures and charter school co-locations would introduce inequities.
“The court notes that the question of where the equities lie is not clear-cut, and the facts do not lean inexorably in the direction of either party,” Feinman wrote.
The United Federation of Teachers said it did not plan to drop its suit, particularly because of the equity claims that Feinman did not assess.
“While Judge Feinman has declined our request for an injunction, his decision does not affect the underlying issues of fairness and due process in the school co-locations and closings that are part of this lawsuit,” a UFT spokesman said in a statement. “These issues remain to be resolved, and the UFT intends to continue to litigate this matter.”
Charter school advocates lined up to call on the UFT and NAACP to drop the suit.
“Let’s hope the UFT and NAACP drop their opposition and allow schools to open as planned in a few weeks,” said Joe Williams, executive director of Democrats for Education Reform, in a statement.
“With classes beginning in just a few short weeks, it’s long past time for the UFT and the NAACP to put their lawyers away, drop their claims and not put families through any more needless uncertainty,” said James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center.
The ruling frees Feinman up to start his summer vacation. At a June 30 hearing where he allowed construction to start at one co-location site, the judge said he was nervous that the case would not be resolved before his summer vacation. The vacation was set to start July 22 — tomorrow.