It was the day hundreds of Bronx teachers, students and their parents had been dreading, and it went exactly as they feared.
The NYC Panel for Education Policy voted Wednesday, March 22, to close five of the city’s renewal schools including three in the Bronx: Leadership Institute in Claremont Village, J.H.S. 145 Arturo Toscanini in Belmont and Monroe Academy for Visual Arts and Design in Soundview.
The panel, which consists of 13 members and schools chancellor Carmela Farina, made the decision based on the schools’ failure to meet benchmarks in categories such as enrollment, graduation rates and test scores in targeting the three schools.
The struggling schools were given Renewal School status three years ago in an effort to turn them around, but staff and parents alleged the schools never got the extra funding and resources promised by the city to help them in the effort.
The vote comes just days after NYC Public Advocate Latisha James called for a halt to plans to shutter the five schools.
James echoed criticism by teachers and parents that the education department had failed to deliver on promises like smaller class sizes and bilingual teachers for ESL students.
Teachers Pete Donohue and Craig Moss of J.H.S. 145 had been particularly outspoken about the decision, and held a rally with students and parents last month to save the school.
They could not be reached for comment following the vote.
Students and parents at Leadership Institute had also held a rally at their school earlier this year.
“This is despite DOE officials’ repeated promises to reduce class sizes at the Renewal Schools and the signing of a consent decree with the NYS Education Department in 2014 to provide bilingual services to students who require them,” James stated. “The student population at J.H.S. 145 is composed of 41 percent English Language Learners, and yet the DOE continues to send new ELL students to the school as recently as last week, according to teachers at the school.”
James was especially critical of the proposal to close J.H.S. 145, alleging the school is a zoned middle school and should not be closed without a vote of the Community Education Council in District 9.
That vote has not occurred, she claimed.
The DOE has insisted it does not need the council’s permission.
In a letter to Farina, James said state education law states that local councils must approve any changes in school zoning lines, and elimination of a zoned school is a change in zoning lines.
The decision to close the schools also drew criticism from Assemblywoman Latoya Joyner and Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson, who issued a joint statement on Friday, March 24 expressing their disappointment.
“As representatives of the community, we are profoundly disappointed to see this educational institution closing after serving our families and our children for more than 50 years, the women stated. “This decision comes despite the outcry of parents, the school community, and most importantly, our children.”
The DOE has insisted it will work closely with families of students from the closing and contracting schools to find a higher-performing school that meets their needs.