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Relative quiet, but not acquiescence, as closure hearing starts

This year’s Panel for Educational Policy hearing about 24 proposed school closures, set to start in just over an hour, is shaping up to be a little bit different from similar hearings in year’s past.

One reason is that we won’t be live-blogging the vote, something we’ve done five times before. Instead, a team of reporters from the Covering Education class at Columbia University’s journalism school will be covering the hearing. They’ll be reporting on Twitter all night, using the hashtag #PEP311, and they’ll have the full story tomorrow.

But a more substantive shift is that the meeting is likely to be less raucous than in past years. While parents, teachers, and students have spoken out against the closure proposals at hearings across the city, organized protest has been minimal. Tonight’s resistance is likely to focus less on individual schools and more on the Bloomberg administration’s closure policy, which the panel itself will have to discuss because of a resolution calling for a moratorium on closures.

Several factors are likely to dampen tonight’s tone. The schools on the chopping block tonight are almost all relatively small, with several enrolling fewer than 200 students. (There are only two large high schools facing closure, Sheepshead Bay and Graphic Communication Arts, after the city withdrew its proposal to close Herbert H. Lehman High School last week.) That means there just aren’t that many parents and teachers at the schools to raise objections.

The Department of Education’s new policy allowing students in schools that are closing to apply for a transfer might have neutralized some criticism from families.

And the teachers union has not reprised its role as protest organizer this year, after being stymied by a counter-protest and appearing only as a propriety at the PEP’s two closure votes last year. UFT Secretary Michael Mendel will be speaking, but President Michael Mulgrew is out of town — on another trip to Cincinnati, this time with potential funders for the “community schools” model that the union is promoting. The union is bringing five buses to the meeting, three from Brooklyn and one each from Manhattan and the Bronx — still a fleet, but far fewer than in the past. In 2011, when the long list of closure proposals was split into two hearings, the UFT sent nearly a dozen buses to each.

That’s not to say there won’t be anybody raising objections. Former comptroller Bill Thompson, a mayoral candidate, is planning to speak out against closures during a press conferences before the meeting. Thompson was the first Democratic candidate to call for a moratorium on school closures, nearly a year ago, and two of his competitors have since followed suit.

New Yorkers for Great Public Schools, a coalition founded to oppose Bloomberg’s policies in the mayoral election, will also be rallying to support a moratorium.

The topic of a moratorium is likely to be discussed on the stage of Brooklyn Technical High School’s auditorium, where the hearing is being held. That’s because the panel will be voting on a resolution to support a moratorium on school closures, phase-outs, and co-locations.

The resolution, which was proposed by representatives of the borough presidents, who mostly vote as a bloc against Mayor Bloomberg’s appointees, does not actually call for closures to be halted until a new mayor takes over, which would be a hard sell for the mayoral appointees. Instead, it asks for the Department of Education to provide a full accounting of the proposals’ impact and alternatives before additional closures and co-locations can begin. But such a requirement would undoubtedly derail the proposed school changes until the end of Bloomberg’s term because of the time it would take to conduct such a review.

The Panel for Educational Policy, the city’s school board, is required by law to approve major changes to schools and their buildings, as well as other Department of Education Policy’s. It has never rejected a city proposal.

The full text of the proposed resolution is below. Again, follow #PEP311 on Twitter for our updates from the hearing.

Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) Resolution calling on the Department of Education to implement a moratorium on school closure, phase-out and school co-location proposals

WHEREAS, the Panel for Educational Policy in accordance with its statutory obligation to advise the Chancellor on matters of educational policy and student welfare;

WHEREAS, NYC DOE has issued Proposals for Significant Changes in School Utilization and Educational Impact Statements (EIS) for our schools that will, upon PEP approval on March 11, 2013 and March 20, 2013 dissolve schools, some with a proud history of achievements and neighborhood connections;

WHEREAS, while the closing of a school may be necessary as a last resort, school closure has increasingly and improperly become the first and only policy employed by the DOE to address schools with large numbers of students with significant educational needs;

WHEREAS, in hearings and meetings held subsequently, it has become clear that the Mayor’s school improvement strategy may de-stabilize thousands of students in primarily large, comprehensive high schools, and — the replacement of teachers and principals according to rigid and fundamentally arbitrary criteria without offering ample professional development opportunities — penalize the very people who have made significant improvements in several schools;

WHEREAS, the policy of school closures affects disproportionately students of color and communities affected by these policies in NYC have filed a Federal Title VI Civil Rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, citing the closing of schools and the criteria and methods for administering those actions as discriminatory toward low-income, minority communities ;

WHEREAS, charter schools were originally intended as pedagogical laboratories for innovation in teaching to better meet the needs of all our students, but particularly those at-risk, and to improve public schools by collaborating with public schools and sharing best practices with public schools;

WHEREAS, many charter schools in the City today are not pedagogical laboratories for educational innovation, do not serve students at-risk, and neither collaborates nor share best practices with public schools;

WHEREAS, some charter schools have discharged struggling students to improve school-wide test scores; and

WHEREAS, some charter schools have impaired parent participation by blocking the formation of parent-teacher or parent associations;

WHEREAS, resources available to students in NYC public schools should be used to address the educational needs of public school students, rather than supplement the budgets of the large charter management chains which have accumulated substantial assets through both public funds and their unrestricted ability to accept private funding;

WHEREAS, public school communities seeking to expand successful schools are routinely denied that opportunity by the DOE due to a purported lack of space for such expansion;

WHEREAS, opposition to charter school co-locations is increasingly widespread amongst parents, teachers, elected officials, community leaders and members of the clergy as evidenced by demonstrations, petitions, public comment at hearings and litigation to block co-locations.

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Panel for Educational Policy supports a moratorium on all school closures, phase-outs and charter school co-locations and calls upon Chancellor Walcott to:

1) Withdraw all current proposals up for Panel vote in March 2013 for Significant Changes in School Utilization.
2) Impose a moratorium on all school proposals until public presentations are made in every borough reflecting on how this method will raise student achievement in lieu of existing models.
3) Conduct school-by-school transparent reviews of our current school improvement strategies to assess which measures and programs have been effective or are showing promise in raising student achievement,
while improving the school environment; these transparent reviews should include all stakeholders.
4) Examine school intervention plans that may be in place, bearing in mind those improvement strategies contemplate multiyear plans and that none of the schools may have exceeded the time allowed under the federal guidelines.
5) Ensure that all struggling schools, whether or not they are undergoing federally specified reform plans, are given adequate support so that the students will not only graduate but receive the quality of education that will make them college- or career- ready.
6) Provide a full accounting as well facilitate independent research of the educational outcomes of students remaining in previously phased out schools.
7) Fully cooperate with any investigation of Title VI civil rights complaints as filed with US DOE Office of Civil Rights.

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