The New York City Department of Education has apparently decided to keep three schools open after public school parents, guardians and community leaders filed a lawsuit last week. That lawsuit charged the DOE with violating state education law by making zoning changes that affect neighborhood schools without approval from Community Education Councils, effectively denying parents and children access to neighborhood schools without a voice in the process.
The DOE did not respond to the lawsuit in court, but today told the media that the three schools would remain open.
“It shouldn’t take a lawsuit to make the DOE follow the law,” said New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “Zoning laws are the one small area of oversight that parents were allowed to keep under mayoral control. The state legislature should take note of the fact that we had to take the DOE to court to get the public’s voice heard as prescribed by law.”
“We are glad that the Department of Education has seen the error of its ways and reversed its earlier decision to close these schools,” said United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. “This is a victory for parents and for all who feel that checks and balances are needed when making critical decisions about which schools should remain open and which should close.”
Community Education Councils (CECs) are the local bodies created by the State Legislature to ensure that parents and the public retain some oversight over education under the mayoral control system. State education law requires the Department of Education (DOE) to get the approval of the community through its local CEC when it wants to make certain changes, including zoning changes that affect neighborhood schools. But the DOE unilaterally announced plans to close PS 194 and PS 241 in Harlem and PS 150 in the Ocean Hill-Brownsville area of Brooklyn, leaving those zones empty of neighborhood schools and exacerbating already well-documented overcrowding conditions.
By closing down the sole neighborhood school and not providing an alternative neighborhood school, the DOE was in effect eliminating district zoning lines. To do that legally, it must obtain the approval of the local education council.
The plaintiffs filed the suit March 24 at State Supreme Court in Manhattan. They include Gregory Mendez and Serita Mendez, parents of six children who have attended PS 150; Anna Ramirez, the parent of two children enrolled at PS 194; Kathryn Corbett, grandmother of a student at PS 241; Olaiya Deen, the parent of a student at PS 75 in District 3 and a member of the District 3 CEC; Rose Laney, a grandmother and guardian of two students at PS 150, president of the PS 150 parent-teacher association and head of the District President Council; Tatanisha Rice, aunt and guardian of a student at PS 194, former president of the parents’ association and a current member of the school leadership team; David Grinage, a parent of a student at PS 150 and president of the District 23 CEC in Brooklyn; and Jennifer Freeman, parent of a student at Middle School 54 in District 3 and a member of the CEC in District 3.
Also joining as a plaintiff was Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), the 200,000-member labor union representing public school educators in New York City.
The New York Civil Liberties Union was co-counsel on the case and represented plaintiffs Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum and Jennifer Freeman, a parent and the secretary of District 3’s CEC, which includes PS 241.
Plaintiffs asked in the lawsuit that the court rule that the DOE’s policy in these cases is a violation of state education law, order the DOE to stop it and reserve such zone alterations to Community Education Councils.