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Rhee’s Students First campaign tries to pressure politicians

Michelle Rhee’s new advocacy organization is jumping into the fight between the NAACP and charter school families with a new email campaign that has been flooding elected officials’ inboxes since Friday.

The campaign targets elected officials who co-signed a lawsuit, along with the teachers union and the NAACP, demanding that the Bloomberg administration halt its plans to close struggling district schools and replace them with charters.

Students First, which Rhee founded last year, sponsored the campaign, titled “Tell NYC Officials: Don’t Decrease Charter School Space.”

“Remove Your Name from the Charter School Lawsuit,” reads the subject line in the identical emails, which has been sent to the dozen officials listed as plaintiffs in the suit. In four days, more than 550 emails have been sent from people from all over New York State.

“New York needs more quality public school options,” the email reads.

That is why I ask that you remove your name from the lawsuit that threatens to close several existing charter s ychools [sic] and to prevent others from enrolling new children. This action is tantamount to condemning thousands of kids to failing schools who otherwise would have an opportunity at a great education.

The campaign is one of the first steps Rhee’s new organization is taking in New York. (She also organized her supporters to send a letter urging Governor Cuomo to oppose seniority-based layoffs.) In New York, Rhee enters an education advocacy landscape that has so far been dominated by the teachers union and its allies on one side and the lobbying group Democrats for Education Reform, along with Mayor Bloomberg, on the other.

The emails targeting the school closure lawsuit appear to be sent to elected officials without much consideration of their constituencies. City Council Member Letitia James of Brooklyn said that few if any emails she received were from the central Brooklyn neighborhoods she represents. They’ve come from Wappingers Falls, Kingston (upstate New York), West Islip, Merrick (Long Island), and the other city boroughs, she said.

“I applaud their activism,” James said. But she said that the petition will not change her opinion on the city’s handling of closures and co-locations, which she called “poor public policy.”

The plaintiffs were initially alerted that the emails came from a Students First initiative in an email sent by UFT officials.

It’s not clear whether the campaign has had an effect on other elected officials listed in the suit; many did not respond to requests for comment.

In addition to James, the other elected officials listed as plaintiffs are Stephen Levin, Erik Martin Dilan, Mark Weprin, Charles Barron, Ruben Wills, and Robert Jackson, of the city council; Eric Adams, Tony Avella, and Bill Perkins, of the state senate; State Assemblyman Alan Maisel and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr.

A spokesperson for Students First did not respond to several requests seeking comment.