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Teachers Union Announces Lawsuit to Halt School Closures

By DNAinfo Staff on May 18, 2011 9:53am  | Updated on May 18, 2011 2:25pm

UFT president Michael Mulgrew.
UFT president Michael Mulgrew.
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DNAinfo/Shayna Jacobs

By Jill Colvin

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

DOWNTOWN — The city's teachers' union and the NAACP announced they will file a lawsuit Wednesday to try to halt the city's proposed closure of nearly two dozen schools and plans to force more than a dozen others to share space.

The lawsuit includes 15 schools the United Federation of Teachers and the NAACP saved last year when they filed a similar suit against the Department of Education, arguing that the city had failed to provide enough community feedback.

"Clearly the Department of Education has not learned its lesson," UFT President Michael Mulgrew said at a press conference, joined by education advocates and city school parents.

To help prevent another fight, the DOE had made the closure process more transparent, including holding a series of public hearings where parents and students had the chance to weigh in on decisions ahead of a panel vote.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew announced the lawsuit Wednesday at a press conference at the group's Downtown headquarters.
UFT President Michael Mulgrew announced the lawsuit Wednesday at a press conference at the group's Downtown headquarters.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

But the union says the department reneged on other obligations negotiated during last year's litigation, including providing resources like extra teachers and professional development to schools that were struggling.

"They walked away from all of those promises and did not support those schools," said Mulgrew, who charged the city had taken zero effort to help the schools improve.

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott blasted the suit, arguing the department has every right to shutter low-performing schools and replace them with schools that serve kids better.

"It is outrageous that the UFT has today taken steps to try to keep students in failing schools and block families from access to better options in the fall," he said in a statement. "This shameful lawsuit is about one thing — protecting jobs for adults at the expense of what is best for our children."

He also criticized the timing of the suit, describing it as "cruel and irresponsible" to create uncertainty for thousands of students who have already gone through the application process.

The department did not immediately respond to questions about the specific charges lodged by opponents.

The lawsuit list includes five Manhattan Schools slated for closure, including Murray Hill's Normal Thomas High School, East Harlem's Academy of Environmental Science Secondary High School and Kappa II middle school, and West Harlem’s I.S. 195 Roberto Clemente and Academy of Collaborative Education middle schools.

The union also takes issue with the DOE's decision to expand or co-locate numerous charters schools inside public school buildings — a practice that has drawn sharp criticism from many parents and teachers across Manhattan.

Critics, including Upper Manhattan City Councilman Robert Jackson, said charter students at the schools are getting illegal, preferential treatment, while public students are being treated like "second class citizens," forced to learn in lesser classrooms and loosing out on their fair share of library, auditorium and lunchroom time.

The lawsuit will ask the court to halt the closings and co-locations until the DOE obeys the rules that they allege it broke.