A trio of parents backed by outside education groups are set to file a lawsuit against the city’s education department Tuesday, demanding the department reverse the impending closure of a Brooklyn elementary school. The lawsuit argues the decision to close P.S. 25/the Eubie Blake School violated state law because the local elected parent council was not consulted.
But in a twist, the local education council actually supports the school’s closure, arguing that it has become too small to be sustainable. P.S. 25 has hemorrhaged students in recent years, and currently enrolls just 94 students in grades K-5.
The lawsuit hinges on a state law that gives local education councils the authority to approve any changes to school zones. Since P.S. 25 is the only zoned elementary school for a swath of Bedford-Stuyvesant, the department’s plans would leave some families with no zoned elementary school dedicated to educating them, forcing students to attend other district schools or enter the admissions lottery for charter schools.
That amounts to “effectively attempting to change zoning lines” and “unlawfully usurping” the local education council’s authority to determine those zones, according to legal papers that had not yet been filed.
It’s possible that argument will gain traction. A similar lawsuit filed in 2009, and joined by the city’s teachers union, prompted the city to reverse plans to replace three elementary schools with charter schools. (A favorable legal outcome for the P.S. 25 parents could affect the procedure for closing schools in the future, but only if they are also zoned.)
Still, no matter what happens in court, it is unlikely P.S. 25 will remain open. Even if the lawsuit forces the education department to abide by a vote from the local education council, that council’s members want the school to close, its president said.
“We have and continue to have the votes to close that school,” said NeQuan McLean, president of Community Education Council 16. In addition, the city’s Panel for Educational Policy, a citywide oversight board that must sign off on all school closures, voted last month to close the school.
Laura Barbieri, an attorney for Advocates for Justice, a public interest group representing the three P.S. 25 parents bringing the lawsuit, acknowledged that the lawsuit may not save the school. Still, she said, it’s important that local education councils retain their authority on zoning.
“The power of the [Community Education Council] still has to be respected, and the DOE can’t override the zoning power of the CEC,” Barbieri said.
Leonie Haimson, the executive director of Class Size Matters and one of the lawsuit’s supporters, said the school is among the city’s highest-performing elementary schools and argues that its low enrollment is not a sufficient rationale for closing it. The school’s reading and math scores recently rocketed upward even as enrollment fell.
“The teachers are excellent,” Crystal Williams, one of the three parents suing the education department, said in a statement. “I don’t believe my children would be provided with the same quality of education at whatever other schools they are forced to attend.”
Toya Holness, an education department spokeswoman, did not comment directly on the lawsuit, but defended the city’s decision to close P.S. 25.
“Because of extremely low enrollment, the school lacks the necessary resources to meet the needs of students and we are working individually with each family to ensure students are provided with a high-quality option for the fall,” Holness said.