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Teachers' Union Spars With City Over Plans to Close Schools

By DNAinfo Staff on June 22, 2011 7:09am  | Updated on June 22, 2011 8:33am

By Jill Colvin

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

NEW YORK SUPREME COURT — A State Supreme Court judge extended a hold on city plans to shutter nearly two dozen schools and force more than a dozen others to share space Tuesday after hearing heated testimony from the teacher's union.

The United Federation of Teachers and the NAACP have accused the Department of Education of breaking the law by failing to secure state permission to shutter schools it says are failing.

They say the city is reneging on an agreement to provide more resources like extra teachers to schools that are struggling — a charge the city denies.

The judge extended a temporary restraining order on the city's plans.

The union is also trying to stop the DOE's plans to expand or co-locate more new charters schools inside of current public school buildings — arguing charter students get illegal, preferential treatment, including unfair shares of library, gym and lunchroom time.

"I think it is very clear on the record... the Department of Education believes it is above the law," said lawyer Charles Moerdler, who represents the plaintiffs, after the hearing.

But city counsel Michael Best said the union has it all wrong.

"We believe we have lived up to the agreement we signed," said Best, who denied that charter school students are getting extra perks.

He also slammed the UFT for filing the lawsuit so late, which could impact thousands of students trying to prepare for the coming school year.

"It's unfair to sudents who want to know where they're going to be going to high school and elementary school next year. It's unfair to kids and parents who chose a charter school option," he said, warning that a delay that lasts much longer "could cause a lot of chaos."

Shortly before the hearing convened, advocates on both sides rallied in front of the courthouse to make their cases to reporters.

"No child should be left to feel that they're not good enough," charged schools advocate Mona Davids, who argued the city should be investing in failing schools, not closing them, and should be treating all kids equally.

On the other side, Liane Barnes-Jackson, 43, whose two children attend Harlem Success Academy, said parents should have more freedom when it comes to choosing where to send their kids.

"If you could pick and choose your telephone company, you should be able to choose your school," said Barnes-Jackson, who also said she felt betrayed by the NAACP for co-filing the suit.

"I'm very disappointed," she said, sadly. "This is supposed to be my legacy."

This is the second year in a row the UFT has sued to try to stop school closures.

Five Manhattan Schools are current on the chopping block: 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.