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Union, NAACP sue over school closings

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Supporters of the southeast Queens high schools slated for closure this fall claim the city has failed to learn from history in court, so they are going to make them repeat it.

The United Federation of Teachers, the NAACP and several elected officials filed a new lawsuit against the city Department of Education May 18 to halt its plan to close 22 schools across the five boroughs. In February, the city Panel for Educational Policy voted to shut down Jamaica and Beach Channel high schools this fall and place new institutions in the buildings.

Last year, a similar lawsuit saved Jamaica and Beach Channel and one of the Campus Magnet High Schools — the Business, Computer Applications & Entrepreneurship HS — and as part of the agreement the city had to work to turn the schools around and give them better resources.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew said the DOE violated its agreement and deliberately let the schools fail to push their agenda.

“The department is still trying to inappropriately close schools, including most of the schools involved in last year’s court case, even after walking away from its written agreement to help those schools improve,” he said.

The lawsuit contends that DOE was mandated to provide the failing institutions with new instructors and new resources that would have been given to the schools that were to be co-located on the campuses. None of the schools got those additions, the suit contends.

James Eterno, the UFT chapter leader for Jamaica HS, has said for months that the three other schools that share space at the 167-01 Gothic Drive building got new computers, Smart Boards and other tools while Jamaica High teens had to use outdated technology.

“They had an agreement with us in the summer and it is obvious they did not live up to the agreement,” he said.

In addition, the suit argues the DOE closed schools that were on the state’s list for Schools Under Registration Review and/or Persistently Low Achieving without the mandated approval from the state’s education commissioner.

City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott fought off all the suit’s contentions.

Just hours after the suit was announced, he blasted the UFT for its action and said phasing out the schools was the only way to help students. He also criticized the union for filing the suit after 70,000 teens were placed in their high school for the fall and the suit will mess up the process for their placement.

“Every day that our students spend in a failing school does deeper and deeper damage to their prospects of succeeding in life,” the chancellor said in a statement.

In March, the panel voted to phase out IS 231 in Springfield Gardens and PS 30 in Jamaica, but those schools were not named in the lawsuit because they will not be replaced by charter schools and were not named in last year’s suit, according to the office of City Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica), one of the dozen of elected officials who are co-plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Wills said differences in treatment between the failing schools and the charters put in to replace them was “separate and unequal.”

“Co-locating schools without the same amount of attention and determination provided to charter schools is unfair to public school students and lowers the moral of teachers as well,” he said in a statement.

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens), an alumnus of Jamaica HS, were also co-plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Neither elected official returned phone calls for comment by press time Tuesday.

Eterno said he is optimistic things will turn around for Jamaica HS because of the large turnout of support from those in power and parents.

“If we have an impartial judiciary system, then I am confident a judge will find we were shortchang­ed,” he said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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