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Educators lose fight to save SE Queens schools

Supporters who have been fighting for months to save Jamaica and Beach Channel high schools say the end may be near for both institutions following a state court decision siding with the city’s plan to phase out both institutions.

Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Paul Feinman ruled last Thursday night against an injunction sought by the United Federation of Teachers and the NAACP over the city Department of Education’s plan to close 22 city schools, including Jamaica and Beach Channel, and create smaller charter schools on the campuses.

The ruling allows the DOE to go ahead with its closure plans, much to the disappointment of parents, teachers, students and elected officials, who said the city was not giving the schools a chance.

“It’s horrible for us now,” said James Eterno, a social studies teacher at Jamaica HS and UFT chapter leader for the school.

In the winter, the city Panel for Educational Policy voted to close the two Queens high schools, IS 231 in Springfield Gardens and PS 30 in Jamaica due to poor school report card grades and low graduation rates.

The May lawsuit filed by the UFT and the NAACP contended that the DOE ignored agreements it made with the teachers’ union stemming from a successful suit last year to provide specific help to many of the schools it had tried to close. Last year’s lawsuit saved Jamaica, Beach Channel and the Business, Computer Applications & Entrepreneurship Magnet High School, a Campus Magnet High School in Cambria Heights, from closing.

The current lawsuit also accused the DOE of ignoring its legal obligation to seek the assistance of the state education commissioner before it shuttered schools.

The lawsuit claimed the PEP approved plans that the UFT said illegally gave charter school students more access to school facilities, including libraries, auditoriums and lunchrooms that students in public schools in the same locations shared with the charters.

Feinman sided with the city.

“Because plaintiffs have failed to show a likelihood of success on the merits on their claims for a declaration that would enjoin the closure or phase-out of the designated schools, or would bar the co-locations of the charter schools in the designed public school buildings, their motion must be denied,” he said.

City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott hailed Feinman’s decision.

“From the beginning of the Bloomberg administration, we have said that a primary focus of our reform efforts would be to phase out schools that have failed our children year after year, and offer families new, high-quality options,” he said.

The UFT will continue to argue its case, but did not give any specifics.

“While Judge Feinman has declined our request for an injunction, his decision does not affect the underlying issues of fairness and due process in the school co-locations and closings that are part of this lawsuit,” a UFT spokesman said in an e-mail.

City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), who has been fighting along with other elected officials in southeast Queens to stop the closures, said he is not sure if an appeal can stop the process at this point but he still urged the city to rethink how it helps troubled schools.

“They created the road map for failure and instead of trying to fix it, they just abandoned ship. They need to find a way to continue to support the schools they have better,” he said.

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

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