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Court tells city to keep Jamaica HS open

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A state appellate court’s decision last week that saved Jamaica High School, Beach Channel HS and the Business Computer Applications and Entrepreneurship Magnet HS in Cambria Heights from closure cheered some Queens officials and union leaders but angered Mayor Michael Bloomberg and city Schools Chancellor Joel Klein.

The Appellate Division upheld the March 26 ruling by a State Supreme Court judge that the city’s plan to shut down 19 public schools violated the law by not providing enough information about how the closings would affect communities.

The United Federation of Teachers sued the city Department of Education after it decided in January that it would stop admitting students to the selected high schools and replace them with smaller campuses despite overwhelming opposition from elected officials, parents and students.

“The appellate court made a fair and just decision based on the fact that the Department of Education didn’t follow the rules,” said City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), a Jamaica HS alumnus. “I have to follow the rules, you have to follow the rules, why shouldn’t the Department of Education have to follow the rules?”

The court said in its opinion last Thursday that the city’s educational impact statement did not sufficiently spell out the ramifications of the schools’ closings on the surrounding communities in their educational impact statement.

“While the [state] statute does not specify the information that an EIS should include to portray the impact of a proposed phase-out on the community or the students, respondents do not discharge their obligation by providing nothing more than boilerplate information about seat availabili­ty,” the court’s five-member panel wrote in its unanimous decision.

In January, the city voted to phase out 14 high schools in the five boroughs, including Jamaica, Beach Channel and the Campus Magnet school, due to low graduation numbers and unsatisfactory grades. The schools were not to admit freshman students and smaller institutions would be set up inside the buildings of the current schools.

Students and teachers at the high schools said they were being unnecessarily criticized because their low grades were a result of budget cuts and a reduction in educational resources.

Bloomberg criticized the court’s decision at a news conference Friday.

“What it means is that there’s a whole bunch of kids that at least for one year will get a terrible education they’ll probably never recover from,” he said.

Klein also said he was disappointed.

“We will continue to work, in accordance with the law, to close schools that are failing our students and replace them with small schools, which have been proven to be more effective,” Klein said in a prepared statement.

These statements from the Bloomberg administration have dampened the positive reaction from the school communities, said James Eterno, a social studies teacher and the United Federation of Teachers chapter leader at Jamaica HS.

“I’m happy the judges ruled the way they did, but none of us at Jamaica are popping open any champagne corks, especially because we know the mayor and the chancellor won’t work to help us any,” Eterno said.

Councilman James Sanders (D-Laurelton) and Comrie said they hope the city will provide sufficient resources to the schools once slated for closure to help them succeed.

“The Department of Education must provide adequate supervision, aid and resources to enable the schools to reach their potential,” Sanders said.

Comrie said he believed the schools should remain open as they are, but Councilman James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows), who represents the area where Jamaica HS is located, said he agreed with Bloomberg and Klein.

“Those that oppose the transformation of Jamaica High School were happy with the court’s decision and those like myself who were looking forward to bringing the latest educational innovations and programs to the school were disappointed with the decision,” Gennaro said.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Updated 6:14 pm, October 10, 2011
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