Streams

City Can Move Ahead on School Closings And Charters, Judge Says

Thursday, July 21, 2011

education, classroom, school, school supplies, class, teachers, students (Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

A state judge has given the city the green light to close 22 failing schools, and let 15 charter schools share space with regular schools when he declined to grant an injunction requested by the teachers union and the NAACP.

Chancellor Dennis Walcott said he was "incredibly heartened" by the decision.

"The judge in his ruling was very clear about the substandard educational environments that these failing schools create, which will cause children to be considerably harmed," Walcott told WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show on Friday.

Speaking on his weekly WOR radio show, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Friday that those who brought the suit should "be ashamed of themselves": "There are thousands of families whose children have been in limbo because of this lawsuit," he said. "Now we can give them a clear direction."

Judge Paul Feinman said he wasn't convinced the city had reneged on an agreement to help the failing schools before phasing them out, as the plantiffs argued. And although the city may have been "tardy" in seeking state approval for some of the closings, he said, it was in the process of doing so when the Panel for Educational Policy, or PEP, approved of the plans last spring.

The judge also sided with the city when he found its latest plans were sufficient for accommodating privately managed charter schools in the same buildings as regular public schools. He noted that the city had given specific details for dividing up activities in shared spaces, including "what hours will be carved out for each activity (such as lunch or gym) for each school" and "why that allotment is reasonable."

No Ruling on Fairness, However

But the judge declined to weigh in on the issue of fairness. Compelling the DOE to comply with plans to give extra teachers and resources to the failing schools "may or may not benefit students," he wrote, adding that the "equities do not clearly tip in either direction."

Likewise, he said allowing charter schools to co-locate into the various public schools "may or may not result in overcrowding or an unfair distribution of resources, as plaintiffs claim, or may result in a fair and equitable distribution of those resources, as defendants aver." But he said barring the charters from expanding into the regular schools this fall would cause them hardship "in attempting to locate, and pay for, private leased space."

The teachers union said the decision doesn't affect the underlying issues of fairness, and that it intends to continue to litigate.

City Councilman Robert Jackson of Upper Manhattan, who was also among the plaintiffs, said the case was about following the law to benefit all students.

"This is the process that everyone has to go through in order to ensure, ensure that under mayoral control the Department of Education and the PEP are doing things according to the law," he said.

But Brooklyn parent Kathleen Kernizan, whose daughter was accepted to kindergarten at the Leadership Prep charter in Ocean Hill, was relieved when she learned of the ruling late Thursday night. She worried about what would happen if the charter couldn't move into PS 332, and she had to scramble to find her child another school this fall.

"I wasn't sure if I had to change my shift at work to be able to pick her up, and then who knows from where," she said. "So now I know she's going to kindergarten and she's going to the kindergarten that I chose."

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