HARLEM — A judge is allowing a charter school that serves students with learning disabilities to move ahead with its enrollment lottery, after the school sued the city in response to its decision to shutter the charter due to poor performance.
Opportunity Charter School at 240 W. 113th St., along with several parents and students, filed a lawsuit last week against the Department of Education, claiming the agency discriminated against its students by deciding to close the charter's 200-student middle school.
The suit accuses the department of using "arbitrary proficiency goals" to make its decision and said closing the school would cause “irreparable harm” to students with disabilities if they had to seek schooling elsewhere.
The suit also requested a preliminary injunction for Opportunity Charter School to hold its enrollment lottery on Tuesday and have middle school seats ready for the 2017-'18 school year. The judge has not yet ruled on whether the middle school can remain open.
“Today’s decision will allow us to continue to serve youth who struggle in traditional learning environments, including students with disabilities, with the tools needed to excel academically, emotionally and socially in all aspects of life,” Opportunity Charter School founder Leonard Goldberg said.
In early March, the DOE informed school officials that its middle school had failed to meet a number of academic benchmarks the department put in place in 2012, when the DOE announced the school's charter was in jeopardy of not being renewed because of poor performance.
As a result of failing to meet those performance measures, the department recommended closure of the middle school and a temporary renewal of its high school.
School officials appealed the decision on the middle school in mid-March, with a number of parents pleading for the school to remain open.
The DOE made its final decision last week, doubling down on its initial recommendation for closure, which immediately prompted the suit.
“We will take this fight as far as we can to ensure that our children have a school where they feel comfortable and grow in a learning environment best suited to their needs,” said school parent Layta Downs.
Opportunity Charter School argued the city's criteria should be different for its school because it often handles children coming from difficult situations, particularly those with special-education designations.
In the suit, the school accused the DOE of having “discriminatory criteria” in evaluating its students’ academic performance.
More than half the students at the school, which opened in 2004, having learning disabilities or emotional or behavioral issues. Earlier this year, Opportunity Charter School made a decision to exclusively serve students with disabilities.
The closure of its middle school would cause “undue emotional anxiety and disruption of their academic development,” the suit noted.
Additionally, Opportunity Charter School “cultivated a close community” with its students, and placing them in another school “would be inequitable and unconscionable," the suit said.
In its decision, the DOE cited the fact that the school met only four of the 22 criteria set by the agency.
“Opportunity Charter School was given clear performance benchmarks over the last five years, and the middle school grades did not meet or make progress towards them,” DOE spokesman Michael Aciman said.
“The DOE is committed to providing all New York City students with a high-quality education and every middle school student at OCS will have a seat at a higher performing school next year.”
The city’s Law Department said it will review the suit.