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Political support for co-location lawsuit now shaky

The lawsuit that challenges a group of school co-locations could soon lose much of its political firepower.

The lawsuit, filed last December by then-Public Advocate-elect Letitia James, City Council members, and parent advocacy organizations, charged that the city had violated state education law by approving more than 40 school co-locations in October.

But that political support is in jeopardy after Chancellor Carmen Fariña scrapped a handful of those plans and amended others yesterday. James, now the Public Advocate, and Melissa Mark-Viverito, now the City Council speaker, haven’t said yet whether they will abandon the suit, but are both close de Blasio allies unlikely to want a drawn-out legal fight with the mayor.

For other Council members, Fariña’s changes may have been enough, which would leave the parent advocacy organizations to lead the fight.

“Politics is politics is politics,” New York City Parents Union president Mona Davids said. “We do not expect the elected officials like Tish [James] to continue with the lawsuit.”

City Council members Margaret Chin, Jumaane Williams, and Ruben Wills joined James and Mark-Viverito in filing the lawsuit last year. Of the five politicians, only Wills has publicly expressed his continued support.

“We’re going to go ahead,” Wills said. “The other co-locations still make no sense.”

A spokeswoman for Chin said she was happy with yesterday’s news that two co-locations were canceled in her district, and did not know yet what Chin’s stance was on the lawsuit. (Two new high school co-locations are still moving forward in Murry Bergtraum High School in Chin’s district.)

Public Advocate James has made opposition to co-locations a key issue and frequently testified in opposition to the plans. She said in a November interview that people should see her “as a partner in ensuring that the mayor of the city of New York honors his commitment to reform the school system as we know it.”

On Friday, Aja Worthy-Davis, a spokeswoman for James, said she was still “reviewing options” in communication with the de Blasio administration. Mark-Viverito and Williams did not respond to requests for comment on Friday.

Altogether, the signs aren’t promising to Arthur Schwartz, the lawyer who filed the suit.

“I’m not sure they want to cross swords with the mayor in court,” Schwartz said of de Blasio allies Mark-Viverito and James, whose statements in response to yesterday’s decisions were cautious but supportive.

As for the rest of the Council members, “I sent them emails saying, ‘Where do you want to go?’ I haven’t gotten their responses yet,” Schwartz said.

The suit was also filed by three parent advocacy organizations, the New York City Parents Union, Class Size Matters, and New York Communities for Change, which Schwartz said will keep the suit alive.

“Eva [Moskowitz] got 65 percent of what she wanted, we got 15 percent of what we wanted—and she’s going to be in court,” Schwartz said, referring to the widely-held expectation that Moskowitz will sue the city after three of her school’s plans were nixed. “So we might end up being in court together.”

That’s a different stance than the coalition took in January, when they agreed to pause the legal action until the Department of Education had completed its review of the co-location plans.

For some parents disappointed that Fariña did not go far enough in rolling back those plans, support for the lawsuit will signal whether their cause is still politically powerful.

David Kroening, a parent of twins at J.H.S. 78, where over 700 parents attended a meeting in opposition to a Success Academy co-location that got the green light yesterday, is one of them.

“Letitia James came to one of our meetings, and spoke very passionately about it,” he said. His message to the public advocate: “I understand you wanted to give her [Fariña] time, but let’s see what your commitment is.”

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