An oversight board rejected two of the de Blasio administration’s proposed school closures and voted to postpone a third after an emotional hearing that stretched into Thursday morning — a stunning rebuke by an education panel that typically rubber stamps the mayor’s policies.
The vote by the Panel for Educational Policy came around 2 a.m. Thursday after more than seven hours of testimony from well over 100 parents and elected officials. The panel signed off on the city’s plans to shutter 10 other schools — the largest single wave of closures since de Blasio took office in 2014.
But the board’s decision to block the other closures raises fresh questions about the education department’s criteria for closing schools, and suggests that officials may face a higher bar in future when seeking approval for such controversial moves. The mayor appoints the majority of the panel’s 13 members, who typically green light the city’s proposals.
In this case, the panel faced intense pressure from supporters of the low-performing schools, which are part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s $582 million school-turnaround program. They argued that the schools were actually showing signs of improvement but needed more time in the program.
“I believe that this vote and this decision is premature,” said City Councilman Mark Treyger, the chair of the council’s education committee, at the hearing. “School closures can rip a community apart.”
Education department officials have said the schools had either shed too many students or were too low performing to be viable. When deciding which struggling schools to close, officials say they consider the schools’ test scores, attendance, graduation rates, classroom instruction, leadership, and the school’s “overall trajectory for success.”
Still, some community members say that the city has not made it clear when schools perform poorly enough in any of those areas to warrant closure. Instead, many have complained that their schools were arbitrarily chosen for closure while other struggling schools were spared.
The two closures the panel blocked are both Queens schools in de Blasio’s “Renewal” improvement program: M.S. 53 Brian Piccolo and P.S./M.S. 42 R. Vernam. An education department spokesman said those two schools will remain open next year. The panel voted to postpone a decision on a third Renewal school that had been slated for closure, High School for Health Careers and Sciences in Manhattan.
P.S./M.S. 42 had attracted especially vocal responses from parents and elected officials, who were puzzled by the school’s inclusion on the closure list because it has made gains on its test scores and quality reviews — even outperforming a number of other Renewal schools.
Weeks before the vote, City Hall rescinded one of the closure proposals, citing community pressure. The move inspired advocates at some of the other schools to keep making their case. While it’s unclear what motivated the panel’s “no” votes, they faced strong pressure to closely scrutinize the city’s plans before signing off.
The panel did approve the closure of five other schools in the Renewal program, an effort to rehabilitate the city’s lowest-performing schools with extra social services and academic support. While critics have called the program a misguided attempt to save schools that should instead be replaced, the schools’ supporters have argued that they were not given enough time to turn around since the program launched three years ago.
Including Thursday’s closures, there will be just under 50 schools remaining in the Renewal program, down from an original 94. (Twenty-one schools are being phased out of the improvement program after making progress.)
Thursday’s vote came just hours after news broke that Miami school superintendent Alberto Carvalho will replace retiring schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, overshadowing a hearing that some parents and educators had hoped would draw attention to the city’s closure plans.
The meeting’s tone was reminiscent of similar public hearings under de Blasio’s predecessor, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who moved to close dozens of schools and drew fierce protest from local communities. On Wednesday, dozens of people testified against the city’s plans, while audience members interrupted the proceedings with chants of, “Save our schools!”
Here is a list of schools that will officially be closed at the end of this school year. (The oversight panel also approved five school openings and one truncation.)
The five Renewal schools the city will close:
- P.S. 50 Vito Marcantonio (District 4)
- Coalition School for Social Change (District 4)
- New Explorers High School (District 7)
- Urban Science Academy (District 9)
- P.S. 92 Bronx School (District 12)
The five other schools to be closed:
- KAPPA IV (District 5)
- Academy for Social Action (District 5)
- Felisa Rincon de Gautier Institute (District 8)
- Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation (District 12)
- Eubie Blake School (District 16)