Bronx public schools plan federal lawsuit vs DOE

Laura Barbieri, special counsel, Advocates for Justice addressed the crowd during the protest prior to the public hearing at Crotona Academy High School.
Community News Group/Sarah Valenzuela

A federal lawsuit is being filed against the NYC Department of Education.

The announcement for the civil action was made on Thursday, April 12, during a protest prior to the public hearing on Crotona Academy High School.

“When our schools are under attack, we stand up and fight back,” protested the crowd in unison.

Laura Barbieri from Advocates for Justice is expected to represent the schools in the legal action and even attended the protest to inform those present of the impending lawsuit.

As of now, the schools already joining the legal action include C.S. 92, M.S. 325, and New Explorers High School.

While the suit does not yet include Crotona Academy, the message the announcement sent was that the closing schools in the Bronx were not alone in their fights.

“Many of the closing schools have vulnerable populations,” said Barbieri. “You can’t pick on vulnerable people.”

C.S. 92, M.S. 325, and New Explorers High School were voted for closure during meetings with the Panel for Educational Policy in February and March.

Members of these schools’ communities, and the Holcombe L. Rucker High School, attended the protest to support Crotona Academy.

“We are not giving up,” said Nancy Rodriguez-Delgado, the parent coordinator from M.S. 325, encouraging Crotona Academy to sign on to the lawsuit. “We need to send that message to the DOE.”

Barbieri explained she was trying to find ways that closing those specific institutions would violate pre-existing laws and encouraged Crotona Academy to do the same, should they decide to join the lawsuit.

One of the issues Barbieri mentioned at the protest was Crotona Academy’s low enrollment, which was a factor of the DOE proposing the closure of the school.

Barbieri said the school’s decreasing student population was a result of the school’s principal, Patricia Williams, being told by Superintendent Paul Rotondo to stop enrolling students.

The school was previously housed in trailers for 11 years before being moved into a physical building, which is the current space they have occupied for not even three full years.

“This does not make any sense,” said Barbieri. “And the law may not always answer all questions, but we like to think that the law does make sense.”

In addition to the federal lawsuit, these schools also worked on filing appeals to the DOE.

“We stand with you, we will be there and we will fight,” said Wendy Nathaniel, a teacher from Holcombe Rucker High School, a school being proposed for merger to make way for shared space with a Success Academy middle school, as she held up a Crotona Academy T-shirt.

On top of support, they also offered advice on how to approach the April 25 final PEP meeting, where Crotona Academy’s fate would officially be decided.

Trish Hypolite the Parent Association president from New Explorers stressed the importance of students bringing their parents to that meeting, as well.

While Barbieri spoke about the situations involving the other schools, she explained children face a certain trauma when they move in and out of different schools and the premise of the suit would prevent that trauma from furthering.

The DOE stated that it could not comment on the lawsuit because it was still reviewing the action.

Reach Reporter Sarah Valenzuela at (718) 260-4584. E-mail her at

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