Last Thursday, New York Supreme Court Justice Paul Feinman denied the UFT and NAACP’s request for a preliminary injunction which would have prevented the Department of Education (DOE) from moving forward with its plans to close 22 failing schools and co-locate 15 public charter schools in DOE buildings.
The judge ruled in favor of the city on all counts, citing, “there is no clear and convincing evidence that these low-performing schools could be so easily turned around…to adopt plaintiffs’ position would require the court to engage in speculation.”
“Because plaintiffs have failed to show a likelihood of success on the merits of their claims for a declaration that would enjoin the closure or phase-out of the designated schools or would bar the co-locations of the charter schools in the designed public school buildings, their motion must be denied,” stated Feinman.
Opponents to the closings and co-locations argue that the failing schools need to be given a fair chance to improve. Opponents also argue that putting a charter school in the same building as a public school creates an overcrowded and unsafe environment for students.
A case in point is the plight of P.S. 308 in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. After touring the facility in February of this year, City Council Member Albert Vann wrote a letter to Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg asking that the Panel for Education Policy reconsider putting a charter school at P.S. 308, citing that the common space was just too small.
Vann was disappointed but not deterred by the judge’s decision.
“While this decision is disappointing to the many of us who feel that these policy choices by the DOE are not in the best interests of our students and communities, it must be noted that the judge conceded that it is not the court’s role to evaluate the ‘wisdom of educational policy decisions,’” he said. “Furthermore, the judge also acknowledged that last night’s decision did not ‘answer the ultimate questions’ presented by [the] lawsuit.
“Last night’s decision should not be taken out of context and overstated,” he continued. “With respect to school closures, the decision only reasoned that a preliminary injunction could not be justified because it could not be conclusively determined whether the DOE violated its agreement with the UFT to provide adequate supports to the schools slated for closure or whether providing those supports would have improved those schools.
The denial of the preliminary injunction with respect to the co-locations only affirmed that the DOE’s accompanying documentation met the standards of the state education law.”
Vann said, “While the decision will allow the DOE to move forward with its plans for now, I continue to believe that it is neither in the best interests of the existing traditional public school students nor the future charter school students to co-locate schools at P.S. 308 and within the I.S. 33 school building. Although the final outcome of the lawsuit is still yet to be determined, it remains crucial that the DOE truly begin listening to parents, educators and other stakeholders when implementing policies that will have lasting consequences for children and entire communities.”
Schools Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott is satisfied with the ruling. He released a statement saying, “I am incredibly heartened by the court’s decision tonight. From the beginning of the Bloomberg administration, we have said that a primary focus of our reform efforts would be to phase out schools that have failed our children year after year and offer families new, high-quality options.
Tonight, the court clearly stated that ‘if the failing public schools are not closed, students may be subject to substandard educational environments which will obviously cause them to be considerably harmed.’ 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,” he said.