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After protests, city reverses decision to close Brooklyn school

In an unusual concession to community protests, the city has decided to keep open a Canarsie, Brooklyn, elementary school slated for closure.

The debate over whether to close P.S. 114 has been one of the most heated this year. Its supporters have argued that the city doomed the school by allowing its former principal to mismanage it for years and didn’t help the school before sentencing it to close.

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio broke the news of the reprieve to teachers and parents this evening at a rally that had been previously planned to protest the closure plans. Meanwhile, Department of Education officials spread word to the neighborhood’s elected representatives, who have been outspoken in their support of the school.

“We’re absolutely ecstatic,” said Jimmy Orr, the vice-president of the school’s parent association and the father of two P.S. 114 students, who learned of the news at the rally. “We burst into clapping and yelling and hooting and hollering.”

Parents and teachers petitioned the city for years to remove Maria Pena-Herrera, a principal who overspent her budget by $180,000 and was hiring unnecessary staff, before city officials ousted her in 2008. The school was left with thousands of dollars of debt and saw its students’ test scores drop dramatically.

Chancellor Cathie Black said that the decision was made in response to the outpouring of public support the school has received since city officials announced they planned to close it.

“After extensive discussions with the PS 114 community and local elected officials about the struggles this school has faced and its capacity to better serve its students, we have decided to keep PS 114 open,” Black said in a statement. “In the coming days we will work to develop a comprehensive plan for the school that will give it a real opportunity for success,” she said.

The city’s original plan was to replace P.S. 114 with two schools, Explore Charter School and a new district school. The city will move forward with its plan to site the charter school in the same building, city officials said today, but would abandon plans to open the new district school.

Orr credited help from City Councilmen Lewis Fidler and Charles Barron pressuring city officials to re-examine their decision to shutter the school. The citywide school board had been originally scheduled to vote on the closure plan at the beginning of February but had then delayed the vote because of the public outcry. Top city officials had acknowledged that parents and teachers felt abandoned by the city, but until today had indicated they would press forward with their plans to close the school.

“I think what it proves is that you can be heard, and perhaps the more appropriate approach, as opposed to cat calling and all of that, is to work with the city,” said Fidler, who had been a vocal opponent of the city’s plan to close the school. “I think the objective facts at 114 cried out for a different answer than the one [city officials] were giving.”

Fidler had committed to doubling the funding that the school receives from City Coucil from last year to this year, a promise he vowed today to keep.

Parents, teachers, and Canarsie’s elected officials have been lobbying against the city’s closure plan for months. In recent weeks they were joined by Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who hailed the city’s decision to keep the school open. Earlier today, de Blasio released a report criticizing the DOE’s decision to shutter the school.

“This is a major victory for this close-knit school community,” de Blasio said. “P.S. 114 deserved a second chance—and now it will have one.”

This is one of the first times that the city has abandoned its plans to shutter a school in the middle of the process. Last year, the city granted a partial reprieve to the Bronx’s Alfred E. Smith Career and Technical Education High School, choosing to keep one of its technical programs open but closing the rest. This year the city also spared four schools it was thwarted from closing last year, choosing not to try to shutter the schools again because of progress they had made.