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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Teachers' Union Sues to Stop School Closings

P.S. 332, Charles H. Houston in our neighborhood of Brownsville, Brooklyn is one of the schools in New York City that is on the verge of being closed down. Check out this article on the New York Times website written by Fernanda Santos. Let's Save Our Schools!!!

(Courtesy of George M. Gutierrez for the New York Times)
John F. Kennedy High School in the Bronx, one of the schools that a lawsuit filed Wednesday hopes to keep open.

The United Federation of Teachers filed a lawsuit on Wednesday in an effort to halt two tools the city’s Education Department uses to change the school system: closing schools for poor performance and giving charter schools space in buildings occupied by traditional public schools. 

The litigation, filed in State Supreme Court, escalates the tensions in the fraying relationship between the city and the teachers’ union, whose members have worked without a contract for more than a year and now face the likelihood of 4,100 layoffs, which Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg proposed as a way to balance the budget.

It also threatens to upend the coming school year for the thousands of students who have secured a spot in charter schools whose locations are being challenged and in new high schools that are set to replace closing schools.

The lawsuit challenges the city’s plans to shut 22 schools, including 15 that were part of similar litigation last year by the union and the N.A.A.C.P., also a plaintiff in the current legal action. It also accuses the city of fostering an unequal system, where charter-school students get preferential use of the buildings’ common spaces, like auditoriums, cafeterias and gyms.

“We cannot continue with policies that allow inequality not only to exist, but to flourish” in the schools, Michael Mulgrew, the president of the teachers’ union, said at a news conference on Wednesday.

The accusations drew a strong rebuke from Dennis M. Walcott, the schools chancellor, who said the litigation was about “protecting jobs for adults at the expense of what is best for our children” and described it as an effort to “keep failing schools in our midst.”

“Today, to me, is just a sad day for the New York City schools system,” Mr. Walcott told reporters at his own news conference.

Closing failing schools is always controversial, but New York’s strategy of placing charters alongside traditional schools in public buildings — partly as an antidote to the cost and scarcity of real estate and partly as a way to fully embrace the notion of school choice — has elicited particular outrage in neighborhood after neighborhood.

The lawsuit contends that the Education Department has not followed a state law enacted last May that requires it to specify how the schools should share the space, relative to the size of their student bodies. For example, in Canarsie, Brooklyn, the suit says that students at Public School 114 and those at Explore Charter School have had nearly equal time at the building’s gym each day, even though Explore has about one-third of the students that P.S. 114 does. The suit describes a similar situation in a building in the South Bronx: P.S. 30 has nearly twice as many students as Bronx Success Academy, a charter, but the schools get equal time in the gym.

Regarding school closings, the lawsuit charges that the city ignored an agreement reached based on last year’s litigation to help the schools it was then trying to close by offering them additional staff and services, primarily for special education and immigrant students. Mr. Mulgrew offered some examples, among them the request for more social workers to handle the large number of homeless students at P.S. 332 in Brownsville, Brooklyn.

At Jamaica High School in Queens, “there were no smart boards, just broken blackboards,” he said, referring to the lack of basic resources that the lawsuit says hampered many of the schools’ efforts to improve.

The city countered with statistics that describe the schools in the lawsuit as well below average — compared with other schools that have been identified for closing and with schools citywide.

The elementary and middle schools included in the litigation had a 16 percent proficiency rate in English in the last school year, while the citywide average was 42 percent. Among the high schools, the graduation rate was 49 percent, compared with an average of 63 percent citywide.

Below are the schools slated for closing that have been named in the lawsuit:

* Middle School 571, Prospect Heights, Brooklyn

* Bronx Academy High School, Soundview, the Bronx

Intermediate School 195 Roberto Clemente, Harlem

John F. Kennedy High School, Riverdale, the Bronx

Pacific High School, Downtown Brooklyn

Performance Conservatory High School, Morrisania, the Bronx

Public School 102, Joseph O. Loretan School for Creative Arts, Parkchester, the Bronx

Academy for Collaborative Education, Harlem

Academy for Environmental Science Secondary High School, East Harlem

Beach Channel High School, Beach Channel, Brooklyn

Christopher Columbus High School, Pelham Parkway, the Bronx

Frederick Douglass Academy III (middle school grades), Harlem

Global Enterprise High School, Pelham Parkway, the Bronx

Jamaica High School, Jamaica, Queens

Kappa II, East Harlem

Metropolitan Corporate Academy, Downtown Brooklyn

Monroe Academy for Business and Law, Soundview, the Bronx

New Day Academy, Morrisania, the Bronx

Norman Thomas High School, East Side, Manhattan

Paul Robeson High School, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn

P.S. 332, Charles H. Houston, Brownsville, Brooklyn

School for Community Research and Learning, Soundview, the Bronx

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