The teachers’ union, NAACP and elected officials filed a lawsuit against the city on Wednesday that seeks to stop the closures of 22 schools, including Jamaica and Beach Channel high schools.
This is the second year in a row the United Federation of Teachers has filed a suit like this, and last year’s legal action temporarily stopped the city from implementing plans to phase out schools that included Jamaica High and Beach Channel.
“Last year our lawsuit on closing schools demonstrated clearly that the city’s Department of Education, much as it might want to be, is not above the law,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said in a prepared statement. “But the DOE doesn’t seem to have learned its lesson.”
The suit, which was filed in the state Supreme Court in Manhattan, not only seeks to stop the closures but to halt the co-location or expansion of 18 charter schools at public schools throughout the city.
The suit asserts the DOE ignored agreements it had reached as part of last year’s litigation to provide specific assistance to help many of the schools it tried to close last year — an assertion made time and again by Jamaica High educators, students and parents.
“With the focus on education reform, we find there has been a rush to judge and condemn schools and not enough effort to provide the quality education that the original case sought,” said Ken Cohen, regional director of the New York State Conference of the NAACP.
A number of legislators are co-petitioners in the lawsuit, including state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Whitestone), Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) and Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica).
Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott slammed the lawsuit.
“It is outrageous that the UFT has today taken steps to try to keep students in failing schools and block families from access to better options in the fall,” Walcott said in a prepared statement. “This shameful lawsuit is about one thing — protecting jobs for adults at the expense of what is best for our children.”
City officials said they wanted to close Jamaica, Beach Channel and the other schools because of low graduation rates, though the way those figures have been disputed by the schools and legislators.
“This is the first thing we’ve had to be upbeat about in months,” said James Eterno, a social studies teacher at Jamaica High. “We don’t have the champagne uncorked, but we have a chance.”