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Franklin K. Lane student sues over expulsion

Attorneys for a student at Franklin K. Lane High School in Woodhaven have filed a class action lawsuit alleging school and city officials illegally excluded, expelled and discharged students by not providing adequate information prior to the dismissals, according to court documents.

The plaintiff, referred to in court documents as "Ruiz," is a 17-year-old student who attended the high school until September 2002. The suit claims the defendants, including the school's principal, Paul Pedota, and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, denied Ruiz and other students at the school due process by not holding hearings, contacting parents or asking students if they wanted to be transferred before the actions took place.

"It seems that principals may be responding to increasing pressures from more stringent graduation requirements, the No Child Left Behind Act, funding cuts and other factors by trying to get rid of low-performing kids," said Elisa Hyman, deputy director of Advocates for Children, the firm that brought the suit.

Franklin K. Lane High School was put on the state register of failing schools two weeks ago for low academic performance in English language and mathematics skills.

Hyman contends city school students are being pushed out by officials based only on their grades or age, which are not factors in determining whether a student should get an education under federal, state and city law. New York State Education Law, according to the court documents, says that any person older than 5 years old and under 21 years old who lives in the city and has not received a regular high school diploma is allowed to attend a public school.

She said Franklin K. Lane High School had a 30 percent discharge rate, compared to a 2 percent to 5 percent discharge rate at other borough and Brooklyn schools.

The court documents allege the defendants did not properly alert the parents or students that they would be taken out of the high school, violating guarantees afforded to public school students under federal, state and local laws.

"We believe what is happening at FKL is also occurring at many other high schools throughout the city. Advocates for Children has received calls from many students who are being told to leave school," she said. "Some are being transferred to GED programs, but others are merely pushed out to nowhere."

A spokesman for the city Department of Education said he could not comment on the case or the situation at Franklin K. Lane because of pending litigation.

The court documents allege that Ruiz, an English language learner who took bilingual and English as a second language classes, was severely depressed for part of June 2002 and was subsequently absent from school for three weeks. When he returned in September 2002 for the new school year to pick up his program card for his new classes, his guidance counselor told him he had to either go into a GED program or leave the school, according to the documents.

The suit says the defendants violated the law by never holding hearings, contacting his mother or informing either of them of Ruiz's rights before he was discharged in September 2002. Court documents allege that the school did not officially take Ruiz off of the school register, however, because he was still of school age and instead marked him as an "LTA" or Long Term Absent student.

Court documents say under state law that students with more than 20 consecutive absences can be dropped from enrollment but must first follow certain procedures in removing students. The suit contends Ruiz was never offered such procedural protections.

This is not the first time the high school has been the subject of a lawsuit alleging it was pushing out students to improve its image and test scores.

In 1969, a judge ruled in Knight v. Board of Education (Knight II) that the high school had to re-enroll several students because they were denied notice and an opportunity to be heard before being transferred.

Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or by phone at 1-718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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