Declaring that the DoE has “trivialized the whole notion of community involvement …” in school closures, the Supreme Court of the State of New York has reversed the DoE’s attempt to close nineteen of our schools. According to the court, the legislators who created the law that guides closures “…created a public process with meaningful community involvement.” The DoE did not follow that law. In particular the court seemed to take offense at the DoE’s own suggestion during the course of the case that in the future “…rather than being ordered to comply with the Education Law, they should be permitted to develop their own guidelines for compliance…” That’s not a new position for the DoE — that they believe they can write their own rules — and it is nice to see the arrogance of it (my words, not hers) alluded to by the judge.
What is more, the court noted that there was “boilerplate treatment and a lack of meaningful detail regarding the impact on students of the proposed closures, ” and especially in special programs. What would happen to the LYFE Centers in some of the closing schools, programs that include child care and parenting classes for students with children? What would happen to the special programs of Choir Academy? It was the DoE’s responsibility to inform and engage the community on these matters, but it had not.
The decision is good news. As anyone knows who has looked at my postings on Edwize over the last few months, I do not believe that these schools are indeed “failing” schools, even by the DoE’s standards:
- Fourteen of the nineteen schools did not meet the DoE’s own standard criteria for closing. DoE admitted exactly that in at least five of the Impact Statements that the DoE issued when it moved to close the school.
- What is more, the school grades on the Progress Reports seemed to strongly correlate with a basic demographic rather than quality of the schools. Schools without self-contained students received A’s with far more frequency than schools that served these students, while the schools that served them got — too often — D’s.
Schools that continually fail their students need to close or be changed in significant ways. But school closures are destabilizing for the communities around them and the students who attend them. And that’s why we need to get it right.
Getting it right means a true assessment of the school, and a true engagement of the school community. The DoE did not do either.
A few months ago, I wrote that I thought the schools deserved an apology and a reprieve. We have the reprieve, though the DoE is sure to appeal the decision. Will we get the apology too?