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Charter school that Fariña moved to close will open Monday amid legal fight

Fahari Academy, the embattled Brooklyn charter school that the city moved to close earlier this year, will open its doors again after all.

In a setback for the de Blasio administration, a Brooklyn judge agreed Friday to delay plans to shutter Fahari just days before the start of the school year. Chancellor Carmen Fariña had said in March that the city would not renew the charters for Fahari and another charter school, Ethical Community, because of their poor academic performance.

The decision offers some reassurance to the families of nearly 400 students who are still enrolled at the Flatbush charter school, whose school year is set to begin Monday. It’s also the latest illustration of the city’s struggles to close charter schools because of low student achievement, though they are supposed to be held to strict performance standards.

Fahari Academy, which is overseen by the city’s Department of Education, was put on probation just three years after opening in 2009. The school saw an exodus of teachers and students in its early years and ranked last among all middle schools in the city on 2013 progress reports. Chancellor Dennis Walcott moved to close the school in his last months on the job.

A a final decision was delayed until Mayor Bill de Blasio and Fariña took over in 2014. The de Blasio administration offered Fahari a one-year reprieve in June 2014 after reviewers praised the school’s new principal, Stephanie Clagnaz, and Fariña told state officials she saw signs of improvement.

But nine months later, Fariña said it was time for the school to close, saying that it did not meet four of its seven academic goals.

“I will not let failure continue,” Fariña said in a March 5 press release, referring to Fahari and Ethical Community.

Fariña soured on the school just as de Blasio was making his case to gain permanent control of New York City’s school system, one that was predicated on his willingness to aggressively intervene at low-performing schools. Members of the state legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo had expressed misgivings about de Blasio’s plan the city’s worst-performing district schools, which included flooding them with resources and academic support, but not changing staffs at most schools and vowing to give all of them more time to improve. (The state ultimately extended mayoral control by just one year.)

Ethical Community did not challenge the city’s decision, and its students have been enrolled in other schools nearby in Bushwick and Bedford-Stuyvesant. But Fahari’s lawyers filed a legal petition seeking to delay the city’s plans, which Kings County Supreme Court Judge Dawn Jimenez-Salta upheld in late June and extended on Friday.

Meanwhile, school officials say Fahari has made progress. While state test scores remained low in 2015, the school’s math proficiency rate improved from 12 percent to 21 percent, and its English proficiency rate improved from 10 to 15 percent. Those rates still fall below district averages.

Department spokesman Harry Hartfield said that the school’s legal action blocked the city from executing its plan to enroll Fahari’s students elsewhere, though parents could have done so on their own. The city will continue to help families who want to leave the school, he said.

“Fahari was given time to meet a series of clear goals that the school itself helped create; they failed to do so and we continue to believe that not renewing the school’s charter is the right decision for the students and families at this school,” Hartfield said.

No final decision about the school’s future has been made. The city has filed a motion to dismiss Fahari’s entire petition, which Judge Jimenez-Salta will also consider.

But Fahari’s ability to open next week underscores a persistent problem for the education department’s charter-school office. It has repeatedly tried and failed to close schools for poor academic performance, in part because schools have been able to argue that the city’s evaluation standards are inconsistent and poorly communicated.

Its charter-school office is in the process of changing the framework by which it measures school performance for at least the second time in a year. Dirk Tillotson, a former executive director at Fahari whose consulting company works with the school, said the lack of consistency has been frustrating.

“It’s just hard to understand what’s happening in this process,” he said.