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Queens Chronicle

Queenswide: Teachers' union files lawsuit to stop school closures

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Posted: Monday, May 7, 2012 6:03 pm | Updated: 2:29 am, Thu Oct 11, 2012.

The United Federation of Teachers and the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators filed a lawsuit on Monday to stop the closures and restaffing of 24 schools in the city, including seven in Queens.

The city Panel for Educational Policy voted last week to approve Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to shutter the schools at the end of June and reopen them when classes begin in September with new names, up to half the teachers replaced and possibly other principals.

“These sham closings are an attempt by the Department of Education to evade its duty to help these struggling schools succeed,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew and CSA President Ernest Logan said in a prepared statement. “We are asking the court to ensure that no final decisions are made on the staffing of these schools, pending an independent review by an arbitrator on the issue of whether the DOE is trying to get around its labor agreements.”

Essentially, the UFT and CSA argue in the suit filed in New York State Supreme Court that the plans for the 24 schools do not amount to closure, and therefore the city cannot use current contract provisions to restaff the schools.

The city, however, argued the schools will be closed — making it legal for them to seek to replace up to half the teachers at each of the schools. While Bloomberg had said in January that he wanted to replace about half the teachers at the targeted schools, city officials have since changed their tune and said there is no set number they’re aiming to remove.

“The UFT and CSA have shown that they would rather leave our students’ futures to the courts than do the difficult work of turning around failing schools and giving students the education they deserve,” Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said in a prepared statement. “We have already begun preparations to open these 24 new schools next fall, training their leadership teams and holding productive meetings with the UFT to begin the process of staffing the new schools. Sadly, today’s lawsuit could have damaging consequences for that process, jeopardizing the creation of exciting new schools with new programs, teachers and leadership structures.”

The schools that would be impacted by the city’s plans include August Martin High School in Jamaica, Bryant High School in Long Island City, Flushing High School, John Adams High School in Ozone Park, Long Island City High School, Newtown High School in Elmhurst, and Richmond Hill High School. These seven schools, and the 17 others around the city, have been in a federal improvement program because of such issues as low graduation rates and test scores.

Every teacher at the 24 schools has to reapply for their jobs, and a panel that includes representatives from the UFT, DOE and the respective schools will then select which employees will remain. Those who are not accepted to work at their old schools will remain in the system, and will be placed in a pool of substitute teachers.

This lawsuit marks the third time in three years that the union has sued the city DOE over school closures.

The union sued the city in 2010 over its plans to close 19 schools, including Jamaica High School. It won the case, which charged the DOE did not sufficiently communicate its plans with the neighborhoods that would be most affected.

The DOE then held public hearings for the schools it planned to close, and once again the PEP voted to close the schools, after which the union sued over what it argued was a longterm lack of resources at the targeted schools. A judge rejected the UFT’s call for a restraining order that would have halted the closures.

Since the state Legislature approved mayoral control of the city’s public schools in 2002, Bloomberg has closed 140 schools and opened 613.

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