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Education panel signs off on closure of Bronx high school, after facing rare criticism

Teacher Aixa Rodriguez speaks at a Panel for Educational Policy meeting in 2016.
Teacher Aixa Rodriguez speaks at a Panel for Educational Policy meeting in 2016.
Alex Zimmerman

The Panel for Education Policy signed off on shuttering a Bronx high school Wednesday night, the fourth district school closure under an administration that has called such measures a last resort.

But unlike the de Blasio’s administration’s first three closures, which were approved with little pushback in February, some activists and educators criticized the administration for closing the Bronx Foreign Language Academy of Global Studies instead of continuing efforts to reinvigorate it.

“If they wanted to revitalize the school they could do that,” said Jane Maisel, a member of the advocacy group Change the Stakes, before the vote. “We think it’s a very bad precedent.”

The closure highlights a tension in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s approach to New York City’s struggling schools, which has centered around a $400 million “Renewal” program designed to inject more resources into struggling schools in an attempt to improve them, rather than moving immediately to close them. FLAGS is a part of that program.

“Parents and kids were like, ‘Didn’t we have an understanding that this would be a community school?’” said Aixa Rodriguez, a FLAGS teacher. “We had the sword of Damocles over us the entire time.”

The education department has said FLAGS should close because it is unsustainable due to its low enrollment and because of its poor performance — the same rationale given for approving the closure of three schools in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, earlier this year. Two of those schools were also part of the Renewal program.

FLAGS only enrolled 99 students this year, a 74 percent decline over the past five years. As of last October, it was the fourth-lowest enrolled district high school in the city, and had the 12th-lowest graduation rate. Last year, just 19 of 44 students in 12th grade graduated.

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña defended the city’s interest in closing the school, and said it was unconnected to the decision to allocate space in the FLAGS building for Academic Leadership Charter School, a co-location plan that the education panel also approved Wednesday night.

“First and foremost, no school is being closed, merged, consolidated, even truncated to fit another school in the building,” Fariña said. “In this particular case there were not enough students in that school, or people who were choosing that school, to make it work.”

The city teacher’s union, which sued to block closures under Bloomberg, has largely gone along with the de Blasio closures. United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew previously said the closures can be warranted if they are for logistical reasons like low enrollment, rather than a consequence for poor performance.

FLAGS Principal Leslie Chislett did not return a call seeking comment Wednesday or attend the panel vote.

Students currently enrolled at the school will have to find other placements unless they graduate in June. The education department said other Bronx schools will have no trouble absorbing FLAGS students, and that officials will offer “individualized enrollment support,” but advocates say students were not informed of the closure in time for the first round of the high school admissions cycle.

In addition, the panel voted Wednesday to approve three school mergers. The Upper School at P.S. 25 will be absorbed by Brooklyn’s P.S. 308, and M.S. 326 will be absorbed by M.S. 328, with which it already shares a building in Washington Heights. The third plan combines three schools that currently share a building, with the Collaborative Academy of Science, Technology & Language Arts Education and grades 6-8 of the Henry Street Secondary School for International Studies becoming part of University Neighborhood Middle School.

The panel also approved seven co-location arrangements, four of which involve charter schools.

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