Judge nixes school closings

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Jamaica High School and two other southeast Queens institutions were saved from closing by a court ruling, and now the mayor and school supporters are back to having a war of words as the city Department of Education figures out how to place hundreds teens for their freshman year.

On Friday afternoon, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Joan B. Lobis ruled in favor of the United Federation of Teachers and the NAACP, which filed a lawsuit against the DOE challenging its decision to close 19 city schools, including Jamaica High, Beach Channel High School and the Business, Computer Applications & Entrepreneurship Magnet High, one of the four Campus Magnet high schools.

In her ruling the judge said the agency violated state law by keeping parents and school activists in the dark in the weeks leading up to the Jan. 27 decision.

“The votes of the [city] Panel for Educational Policy to close the 19 schools ... are null and void,” she wrote.

Several Queens elected officials rejoiced in the judge’s overturning of the panel’s vote and said it was a win for parents and students. Although the schools were selected for closure due to poor school report cards and low graduation rates, the officials said the high schools were not given more time to try to turn things around.

“There are committed administrators and educators at Jamaica High School who are sincerely interested in seeing our children succeed. DOE must do a better job of engaging parents and local elected officials in real discussions about problem-solving the challenges our schools face,” City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), a Jamaica HS alumnus, said in a statement.

Under state law, the DOE is supposed to provide an educational impact statement that includes the current and projected pupil enrollment of the school affected, how the school’s closing would affect those students and an outline of how exactly the agency would use the school’s building. The DOE was also required to hold public hearings to get feedback from parents and the community for each targeted school.

The judge said the DOE did not provide hard copies of the impact statements to parents and community education councils for review. She also found that for some of the school closings the agency informed parents about the public hearings at the last second and were given a limited time to speak.

“[T]hus, those hearings were not ‘joint’ public hearings,” Lobis wrote in her decision.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city would appeal the judge’s ruling and defended the DOE’s decision.

“Those 19 schools are not educating those kids and ... those kids are going to be deprived of an education,” he said at a news conference Monday in Jamaica.

In the meantime, the DOE said it would be rematching students to their high schools. This week the city mailed out nearly 70,000 acceptance letters to students who applied to public high schools across the city.

Originally, students were not placed in schools slated to be phased out, such as Jamaica HS, but were allowed to be matched. The DOE, however, said it would allow them apply to those institutions on the second round.

“If a student is matched to one of those schools, he or she will be able to choose between that school and the school he or she was matched to in the main round,” city Schools Chancellor Joel Klein said in a statement.

As for the students who applied to some of the schools that were slated to replace the phased-out schools, such as the High School for Community Leadership or the Hillside Arts and Letters Academy, which were supposed to be placed inside Jamaica High’s building, a DOE spokesman said the city would be working to rectify their situation.

In any scenario, the students who currently attend the high schools would finish out their classes. Previously, the students would share space with the new schools placed in their buildings until they graduated.

Instructors at the targeted schools would have been given preference when the DOE hired teachers and principals for the new schools that were going to be placed inside the closed-down schools.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4546.

Updated 5:45 pm, October 10, 2011
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