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UWS parents gear up for renewed diversity fight over school closure

The same parents who earlier this fall battled a plan to move two Upper West Side schools are now planning to protest one of the city’s latest school closures.

The Department of Education announced today that MS 44, one of two middle schools currently located in a building on West 70th Street, will not accept any sixth graders for next year because of the school’s poor performance. Instead, a new middle school will open in the building, and current students will continue to attend MS 44 until they finish eighth grade.

Calling themselves the Coalition for Equity and Educational Diversity in our Schools, the parents told me today that they are planning to rally around MS 44, whose students are almost all black or Hispanic. They say the effect of MS 44’s closure could be similar to that of the district’s plan to reduce overcrowding, which they say will make some school buildings in the neighborhood less diverse.

The overcrowding plan, which DOE this week said it would implement, requires two schools to relocate. One of them, a citywide gifted school, the Anderson School, will move next fall into the MS 44 building.

MS 44 has long been troubled. In the last seven years, it has had five principals, and its programs constantly changed. The school received a D on its most recent progress report; last year, it received a B. MS 44 has also been on the state’s list of “persistently dangerous” schools for two years, a result of a new zero-tolerance policy for violence, Principal Liza Ortiz told me last year when I visited the school for Insideschools.org.

But despite MS 44’s challenges, the issue of its potential closure never came up during public hearings about school relocations, even as DOE officials described how many rooms it uses in the building. Jennifer Freeman, a member of the District 3 parent council who led the charge against overcrowding, wrote today on the Insideschools blog that the DOE told council members that MS 44 “was on a list of schools under consideration for closure, but that no final decision had yet been made.”

Freeman also noted that community members were not consulted before the DOE announced the school closure. The DOE has always maintained that the chancellor has discretion to close schools.