New York Teachers Unions to Sue Over Planned Closures

The United Federation of Teachers have filed a joint lawsuit with the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators to prevent the closure and restaffing of 24 schools in the city. The lawsuit is a response to a decision last week by the city’s Panel for Educational Policy to approve Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to close the schools in June and reopen them in September under new names with many failing teachers and possibly the Principals replaced.

“These sham closings are an attempt by the Department of Education to evade its duty to help these struggling schools succeed,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew and CSA President Ernest Logan said in a prepared statement. “We are asking the court to ensure that no final decisions are made on the staffing of these schools, pending an independent review by an arbitrator on the issue of whether the DOE is trying to get around its labor agreements.”

The lawsuit, filed in the State Supreme Court, marks the third time in as many years that the unions have tried to block school closure plans by suing the city. The first attempt was temporarily successful as the court ruled that the Department of Education have no properly communicated its plan to the affected neighborhoods. However, the DOE then promptly held public hearings to satisfy the requirement, won the PEP vote again and went ahead with the closures. This time with no technicality to fall back on the judge rejected the UFT’s request for a restraining order to halt the closures.

“The UFT and CSA have shown that they would rather leave our students’ futures to the courts than do the difficult work of turning around failing schools and giving students the education they deserve,” Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said in a prepared statement. “We have already begun preparations to open these 24 new schools next fall, training their leadership teams and holding productive meetings with the UFT to begin the process of staffing the new schools. Sadly, today’s lawsuit could have damaging consequences for that process, jeopardizing the creation of exciting new schools with new programs, teachers and leadership structures.”

The state Legislature approved mayoral control of the city’s public school in 2002. Since then Mayor Bloomberg has closed 140 school and opened 613. Some like Democracy Prep have been a huge success that have transformed the affected neighborhoods from having the worst schools in the city to some of the best. However Bloomberg is leaving the mayoral office in 2013 and it is thought likely that his replacement will not be as pro-education reform as he is. Indeed, many of the prospective candidates have strong ties to the unions. The future of education reform in New York City is in many ways dependent on the upcoming mayoral campaign. If the wrong candidate wins, then much of Bloomberg’s hard work at transforming the city could be lost or undone.

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