Now that the State Supreme Court has brought the city’s plans to shutter 19 schools to a screeching halt and the city is planning to immediately appeal the decision, the fates of the schools, their staffs and a large number of students are in limbo.
Here are some questions that we have about the way forward, and here is what we know so far:
What happens to eighth-graders who wanted to attend one of the 14 high schools the city slated for closure?
When the city’s eighth-graders begin receiving their high school placement letters this weekend, none of them will have been assigned to the formerly closing high schools, Chancellor Joel Klein said today. Instead, the 8,500 students who listed one of those schools among their top choices will receive a second letter along with their placement, telling them that if the schools do remain fully intact in the fall, students who want to can choose to attend them.
Teachers union chief Michael Mulgrew said today that approach violates the spirit of today’s ruling, which banned the city from halting enrollment at the schools until it goes through the school closing process again.
“First the Chancellor defies the law, now he defies the court,” Mulgrew said. He said that under the ruling, students who listed one of the closing schools as their first choice should be assigned to those schools. DOE officials said today that 916 students listed one of the schools slated for phase-out as their first choice. Mulgrew said the teachers union plans to sue the city to force them to place ninth-graders in those 14 schools.
What happens to the new schools that were supposed to open and replace the closing schools?
City officials are confident they will still open. Fifteen new schools, including four new charter schools, were set to be co-located in buildings with schools that were going to be phased out.
Department of Education officials said many of the buildings are already so underutilized that it is likely there will be room for the new schools to open in those buildings anyway.
“We’re telling them that we’re evaluating, but we expect that there will be room for the new schools next year,” said DOE spokesman Danny Kanner.
This is especially true for next year, because the new schools will open with only one grade and thus will need relatively little space in the buildings. In addition, what incoming classes the formerly closing schools do enroll is likely to be small because the DOE is asking students to opt in to attend schools whose struggles have been highly publicized.
If the city loses its appeal, will the school closure fight get postponed to next year?
Probably. City officials did not comment today on this issue, but if today’s ruling holds, then the time line for school closures required by state education law would seem to force the city to wait until next school year before launching the process again.
Under state law, the city is required to post an educational impact statement analyzing the effect closing the school would have on students and the community six months before the start of the next school year. The EISs were at the heart of the judge’s decision today, as Judge Joan Lobis ruled that the statements the DOE prepared this year were inadequate to fulfill the requirements of the law. If the city loses its appeal, it will have to prepare all-new statements for each of the schools. The deadline for doing so in order to begin phasing out the schools next year — March 8, six months before next year’s September 8 start date — has already passed.
David Bloomfield, a professor of education law at Brooklyn College and former lawyer for the city school system, said that state education law does give the DOE one possible “Hail Mary pass” it could use to avoid repeating the lengthy school closures process. The law specifies that in an emergency, the chancellor can decide to immediately close a school “for the preservation of student health, safety or general welfare.” In that situation, the city can only keep the school closed for six months, and the DOE must use that time to go through the complete public process to shutter the schools.
At least eight of the schools affected by today’s ruling are likely to eventually be shut down no matter what happens. That’s because they are on the state’s list of its worst-performing schools that state officials have targeted for replacement.
But the head of the city’s teacher union said today that he’s confident that if the city loses its appeal, the 19 schools will remain intact next year.
“It would look that way to us at this moment,” Mulgrew said. Rather than simply postponing the closures, he said, the city should use the next year to help make the schools better. “I would say we have an opportunity here to work constructively to move these schools forward,” he said.