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Court Clears Way for School Closures

By Jill Colvin | July 22, 2011 6:41am | Updated on July 22, 2011 10:14am

MANHATTAN — A Supreme Court judge cleared the way for the closure of nearly two dozen struggling schools after refusing a request to halt the plans.

In a ruling issued late Thursday, Justice Paul Feinman denied the United Federation of Teachers and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's request for an injunction stopping the Department of Education from shuttering 22 schools.

They include 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.

“If the failing public schools are not closed, students may be subject to substandard educational environments which will obviously cause them to be considerably harmed,” the judge wrote in the 20-page decision on the injunction.

The UFT had also tried to stop the DOE from expanding and co-locating 15 charters schools inside public school buildings through the city — a practice that has drawn sharp criticism from many parents and teachers across Manhattan.

The judge said co-locations “may or may not result in overcrowding or an unfair distribution of resources,” but because students are already placed for the coming school year, barring the co-locations would “cause these schools hardship.”

The decision only speaks to the injunction request and not many of the underlying issues raised in the suit.

“This decision merely concludes that, on a preliminary basis, the DOE cannot be enjoined from proceeding given the many sharply disputed factual issues; it does not answer the ultimate questions presented by this lawsuit," the judge wrote.

A spokesman for the UFT said they will continue their fight.

"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," he said in a statement.

"These issues remain to be resolved, and the UFT intends to continue to litigate this matter,” he said.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg celebrated the decision as "a big victory for the kids" and slammed the UFT and NAACP for trying to stop the closure plans.

"I think those that brought the suit should be ashamed of themselves," he said Friday morning during his weekly radio sit-down with WOR's John Gambling, slamming the move as "an outrage."

He said the effort is part of a larger culture of political obstruction.

"We cannot keep doing this, fighting everything," he said.

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott also applauded the move as a victory for students in a statement Thursday night.

“I am incredibly heartened by the court’s decision tonight," he said. " 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."

In 2010, the UFT succeeded in preventing the closure of 19 schools after the court ruled that the city had failed to provide adequate information about the impact of the closures.

Bloomberg downplayed that decision Friday, arguing that the city lost last year because of "trivial stuff" akin to using "blue ink rather than black ink or something in the application."

“This time we took a lot more care. We dotted every 'i,' we crossed every 't.' They still sued us and the court said enough."