With little debate, education panel signs off on de Blasio’s first school closures

Five years ago, the city voted to close 22 schools in a marathon Panel for Educational Policy meeting that drew not one, but two sessions that stretched into the early hours of the morning.

This year, the principal at Foundations Academy was one of only a handful of speakers who attended the panel meeting to take up school closures. When he grabbed the microphone to give his school one last plug, Neil Monheit was melancholy but resigned.

“I recognize that it’s a very small school. It’s difficult to sustain our work,” Monheit said, before adding he hopes his students find “places where they can flourish and can go forward.”

Foundations Academy, a high school in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, is one of three small schools that the panel voted to close on Wednesday, citing low enrollment and funding shortfalls. The other two schools, Peace Academy Middle School and The School for the Urban Environment, are middle schools also located in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

This trio marks the first set of schools Mayor Bill de Blasio has moved to close. De Blasio has long distanced himself from former Mayor Michael Bloomberg by promising to close struggling schools only as a last resort, after first ensuring that they have all of the resources they need.

But it did not make sense to invest more in these schools because they are too small to sustain the kinds of services that are necessary to help students learn, Chancellor Carmen Fariña said.

“It is not fair to put students in schools without giving them services,” Fariña said. “If you don’t have an art teacher, you don’t have a guidance counselor, you don’t have a homeroom monitor and things, then it’s not really a school.”

Each of the schools suffered from poor enrollment. Peace Academy enrolled just just 12 sixth graders this year, and Foundations Academy enrolled just 113 students.

They also struggled academically. Two schools— Urban Environment and Peace Academy — were a part of the city’s “Renewal” turnaround program. No students passed the state English exam at Urban Environment over the last two years.

At Peace Academy, just 2 percent of students were proficient in English and 7 percent of students were proficient in math. Foundations Academy had the city’s fourth-lowest high school graduation rate.

The previous administration closed dozens of schools, a policy that earned the scorn of the teachers union and often resulted in emotional protests at schools and meetings of the Panel for Educational Policy.

The tenor of this meeting was quite different. The resolutions all passed unanimously with very little pushback from the board or from the public. Only a handful of people took advantage of the public comment period and one used her testimony to ask, “Why didn’t this happen sooner?”

Unlike most of the schools closed by the Bloomberg administration, which were phased out by not admitting new students, these three schools will close at the end of the school year. The students will need to find new middle and high schools to attend.

The panel also approved two consolidations, Peace and Diversity Academy into The Metropolitan High School in the Bronx’s District 12, and Young Scholars’ Academy for Discovery and Exploration into Brighter Choice Community School in District 16.

The city has also closed one low-performing charter school, and announced plans this year to close three more.