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Harlem Charter School Won't Have to Close Middle School Next Year

 The city had ordered Opportunity Charter School to close its middle school based on poor performance.
The city had ordered Opportunity Charter School to close its middle school based on poor performance.
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

MANHATTAN SUPREME COURT— A charter school serving students with disabilities that is suing the city Department of Education for ordering it to close its middle school will be allowed to remain open through the next school year.

Opportunity Charter School can continue to plan for the upcoming school year for its middle school students, despite the DOE pushing to close the school for poor performance, after Manhattan Supreme Court Justice James d’Auguste on Thursday extended the case until July.

Lawyers representing the school said it is unlikely the school will close for the next year at least, a point agreed upon by officials from the DOE, which oversees authorization of the school's charter.

The school, at 240 W. 113th St., and several parents filed a discrimination suit last month in response to the DOE’s decision to close Opportunity's middle school grades due to poor performance, claiming the metrics used to judge the school were biased against students with learning disabilities.

The DOE contends that the school did not meet the clear performance standards put in place by the department, which lawyers for the agency stressed at Thursday’s hearing.

“I know it makes me look like a cold bureaucrat,” a lawyer for the school said at the hearing, before noting there needs to be some accountability measures in place for performance.

Opportunity officials have claimed the metrics — which are based on state standardized testing — are unfair for measuring students with disabilities.

“Instead of supporting our city’s most vulnerable students, the Department of Education wants to shut down one of their only resources,” Leonard Goldberg, the school’s founder and head of school, said in a statement.   

“We stand with our parents, students and alumni in fighting this decision so that we can continue to provide resources that help students thrive academically, emotionally and socially in all aspects of life.” 

The judge called the case a “unique circumstance” because of the school's student body.

More than half the students at the school, which opened in 2004, have learning disabilities or emotional or behavioral issues. The school is also planning to eventually serve only students with disabilities.

The judge said at the hearing that he wanted to come to a decision that both sides could be comfortable with, including the possibility of additional oversight from the DOE and a special metric to assess students’ performance, among other options.

Charter schools have a good amount of autonomy, and judge said he could see the DOE taking a more hands-on approach in assessing progress, like having more classroom visits and setting goals. He also questioned using standardized testing to assess students with disabilities, noting that measuring students on their Individualized Education Program (IEP) could be a metric.

DOE spokesman Michael Aciman said that despite the school remaining open for the next year, the department will continue to advocate for the “truncation” of the middle school.

“Students always come first, and given where we are in the school year, we will allow the middle school grades to remain open in 2017-18,” he said in a statement.

The next hearing in the case is slated for July 12.