LOWER EAST SIDE — Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio hasn't even taken office yet, but he's already found himself in the thick of the school co-location battle, as a group of parents and elected officials — including his pick for City Council speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito — filed suit last week in an effort to halt all pending co-locations.
De Blasio was an outspoken opponent of school co-locations during the mayoral campaign, slamming the Department of Education in September for its rush to jam new schools into existing buildings during Bloomberg's final months in office. Since being elected, he has reiterated his intention to place a moratorium on the approval of any new co-locations or school closings.
However, de Blasio cautioned Monday that while he stands by his moratorium vow for all new applications, he's still unsure what he'll do about the dozens of co-locations that were approved by Bloomberg's Panel for Educational Policy in October for fall 2014 opening.
He added on Monday that the fate of schools already "in the pipeline" was an "open question."
"We have to assess the state of each one and decide what makes sense. Does it make sense to reverse them? Is it possible to reverse them? Is it more productive or counterproductive to reverse them?... We don't have a hard and fast answer," de Blasio told reporters at a press conference in which he named Carmen Fariña the new schools chancellor.
There are currently 42 co-locations — including 10 new Success Academy charter schools — already approved by the Bloomberg-controlled Panel for Educational Policy. In September, when he was still battling for the Democratic mayoral nomination, de Blasio bashed those specific plans, saying they would result in many of the schools becoming overcrowded.
Mona Davids from the New York City Parents Union, one of the groups that filed the lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court on Dec. 27, said they plan to hold de Blasio to his campaign pledge.
"This lawsuit is filed to ensure that [de Blasio] keeps his campaign promise...that he listens to the parents and community when it comes to co-locating schools," Davids said. "We want to ensure [de Blasio] stops this and stops this immediately."
Also backing the lawsuit are Public Advocate-elect Letitia James and City Council members Melissa Mark-Viverito, Margaret Chin, Jumaane Williams and Ruben Wills.
"What is being done and what has been expressed explicitly, not only through the lawsuit, but through parents and activists, is the concern [about] the pressure co-location puts on schools," Mark-Viverito said. "That's an issue that I think will be seriously taken up by the next administration."
"My hope is there will be some change in the policy of how schools are sharing space. It really does a disservice to students," she added.
The lawsuit states that schools already operating in the buildings slated for co-locations "will suffer severe space constraints if the plan moves forward. In some of the buildings, students are already so cramped that they are "forced to have gym in their classrooms or eat lunch at 10:30 a.m. when others are finishing breakfast," according to the lawsuit.
While co-locations are not uncommon, the lawsuit accuses Bloomberg and outgoing Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott of approving an unusually high number in the fall of 2013, just before leaving office. The fall of 2012 saw just 30 co-locations approved by the Panel for Educational Policy, compared to 42 last October, advocates said.
The city's Department of Education declined to comment on pending litigation. A spokesman for the Law Department said it would review the papers when it received them.
One of the 42 schools affected by the plan is University Neighborhood High School, where parents and students have been fighting plans to bring another high school into its century-old building since September. Advocates say a co-location could harm student learning and prevent the school from continuing to improve after rising from a D grade four years ago to an A on its most recent report card.
With reporting by Jeff Mays.