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State approves 12 school closure plans, but uncertainty remains

The city cleared a hurdle today when state education officials approved proposals to close twelve of its lowest performing schools.

In a letter sent to Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, State Commissioner John King said that the proposals, submitted earlier this month, satisfied state guidelines. The approval clears the way for the city to receive more than $5 million in federal funds for closing the schools and opening new ones in their place.

But the schools could still remain open because of a pending lawsuit. The lawsuit, brought by the NAACP and United Federation of Teachers, alleges that the Department of Education violated state education laws in its attempt to close 22 schools.

King’s ruling addresses at least one argument in that case. UFT lawyers argued that the city’s phase-out plans could not move forward until they received approval.

A final decision on the lawsuit could come as early as tomorrow.

The 12 phase-out schools were deemed among the state’s lowest achieving earlier this year. All but one school are high schools (the complete list appears in the official letter below).

An additional 10 schools are also set to close this year but because they aren’t on the state list of lowest performing schools, they did not require state approval and won’t receive additional funding.

In the letter, King warned the city about the potential effects of displacing large groups of high needs students who attend the phase-out schools.

King said that the proposals raise “many issues if the replacement schools in aggregate do not serve comparable numbers of such students, particularly during their phase-in period, as has historically been the pattern in New York City.”

“In particular, we want to ensure that schools receiving students who would otherwise have attended a phased out school are not negatively impacted as a result of their now enrolling an increased number of high-needs students,” the letter reads.

But state officials stressed that the commissioner’s approval should not be read as a legal interpretation of state laws that plaintiffs in the lawsuit charge the DOE with violating.

“NYSED takes no position regarding the merits of any pending or future legal proceedings related to such plans,” state education spokesman wrote in an email to the city.

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