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Franklin Lane students settle suit against city

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Elisa Hyman, a spokeswoman for the group Advocates for Children of New York which brought the lawsuit on the plaintiffs' behalf, said the city will now have to follow certain steps before discharging students following a decision by Judge Jack Weinstein of the Eastern District of New York last Thursday.

The class action lawsuit alleged school and city officials illegally excluded, expelled and discharged Franklin K. Lane students by not providing adequate information prior to the dismissals, according to court documents.

"We are pleased with the settlement as it ensures that students will have the opportunity to go back to school, either at Franklin K. Lane or at another New York City school," Hyman said. "The city Department of Education has agreed to assist them and other Franklin K. Lane students by providing support services through the newly created after-school Young Adult Success Center, and students who return will have the opportunity to make up credits."

She added: "(T he settlement) also protects all Franklin K. Lane students from being pushed out in the future."

The law firm Morrison and Foerster LLP brought forth the class action lawsuit with Advocates for Children, according to a release. So far, more than 5,000 students who had been discharged from Franklin K. Lane in the last three years have already been notified of their right to return to school.

As of this year, according to the city Department of Education Web site, there are 3,878 students enrolled at Franklin K. Lane.

The school, which was targeted earlier this month by Mayor Michael Bloomberg for additional security and school safety officers, is currently being monitored by the state because of its low standardized test scores.

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 claimed 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.

The Department of Education issued the following statement on the judge's ruling:

"This settlement reflects Chancellor Klein's leadership on this issue and his commitment to ensuring that all children have the opportunity to progress in their education and to provide additional supportive academic services to students who may have been improperly discharged by their schools."

Hyman said at the time the suit was filed in February that city school students were being pushed out by officials based only on their academic 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.

Former Franklin K. Lane students who wish to be readmitted will be given priority admission to city high schools with a short timeline for re-enrollment, the statement said. Those taken back into the school will have a host of intervention services to assist them in school, including an after-school tutoring program and career counseling.

Under the terms of the settlement, procedures for exit conferences for students who are leaving a high school or going into a GED program will be mandatory to ensure no one is forced to leave due to problems such as overcrowding, according to the release. Students can also not be prevented from attending classes and can only enroll in a GED program voluntarily, the statement said.

According to court documents, plaintiffs alleged 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.

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 vs. 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.

Parents or former Franklin K. Lane students with questions about the suit can call Advocates for Children at 212-822-9550 or Morrison & Foerster at 212-468-2845.

Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by calling 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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