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Mammoth Meeting Ends With 10 School Closures

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After more than six hours of angry public debate, the Panel for Educational Policy voted early Wednesday morning to close 10 city public schools and also allowed several charter schools to have space within public school buildings.

About 3,000 people showed up at the meeting at Brooklyn Tech High School in Fort Greene, which began around 6 p.m. Tuesday and lasted more seven hours.

DOE officials hope to close 25 schools this year, the most ever in a single year.

While 354 members of the public signed up for two minutes at the microphone, many people left before their number was called but as the night got later and the weather grew worse.

The hundreds of attendees representing the charter schools said they were there to demand the Department of Education make more bold changes to the system, while those fighting the closures say they want the DOE to offer more support to the existing system.

Often the two groups in the audience clashed, and police were on hand in the auditorium to make sure people stayed in their seats.

"I need to make it to college and [my school] is helping me get there," said one young student to great applause. "Please help them."

"One year we see we receive an 'F,' and you're shutting us down? I can just imagine my student came to me and got an 'F' on their paper, and I told them 'I'm done with you,'" said a teacher.

"If it can't be weighed, measured, or counted, it makes no sense to you people," another speaker told the panel.

At one point, two PEP members almost got into a physical fight, but they were held back by the panel's chairman and a deputy chancellor.

The public comment period ended at midnight and the panel members then spent more than an hour asking DOE officials questions.

One member asked about an internal report that NY1 first obtained last week, which suggests the DOE has been able to predict which schools will fail and has still allowed them to be inundated with high needs students.

"Who made these decisions? Why were these decisions made? Why were these reports withheld from the panel members, whose job it is to make these decisions," said Patrick Sullivan, the Manhattan borough appointee to the panel.

DOE officials vigorously denied the charge they set certain schools up to fail.

"To suggest that there's an intentional effort, in its own way, to destabilize these schools is just not accurate," said Shael Polakow-Suransky, the DOE's chief accountability officer.

"I think that we need to think about how we best support our children," said Deputy Chancellor Santiago Taveras. "I think if we start blaming, then we take our focus aware from the basic needs of our schools, and if we are focused on the solutions as opposed to the blame, we would do a much better job."

At 1 o'clock in the morning, the PEP voted to close all 10 schools. All eight mayoral appointees voted in favor of the closures, and only Sullivan did not vote for a single school to be closed.

The panel also voted in favor of the proposals to allow charter schools to share space in the public school buildings.

Only about 100 people remained at that point but they were angry, often shouting over the panel members as they spoke.

Eventually, the crowd demanded that School Chancellor Cathie Black speak, and she did, for the first time all night.

"I cannot speak if you are shouting.... We have studied these very difficult proposals for the better part of two years. It has been an extremely difficult process," said Black.

Last year, the panel voted to close 19 schools, but a judge later stopped the city, saying officials had not followed the proper procedure.

The teachers' union said it will fight this year's closures through similar legal means.

"We have followed each and every one of the processes on the closings of these schools, and I can assure you that when we review this process, just as we did last year, if there has been a problem with any single one of them, we will see you all in court," said President Michael Mulgrew of the United Federation of Teachers.

On Thursday, the panel will reconvene to consider 13 more closure proposals and the teacher's union has planned a major rally before that meeting. It will likely be another long and contentious meeting later this week for the panel.

The vote on the last two schools will take place in March.

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