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Educational Panel Votes To Close 24 City Public Schools

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The Panel for Educational Policy voted late Thursday to close and overhaul 24 public schools in four boroughs, and opponents said they are going to continue their fight in court.

About 400 educators, parents and members of the public attended the PEP's meeting in Prospect Heights Campus, a Brooklyn high school. About 150 took turns over four hours to address the panel, and then panel members spent more than an hour debating the plan before the vote.

The 24 closing schools will be reorganized over the summer and reorganized for the fall, and all the principals and up to half of the teachers at each school will be replaced.

The original decision to close the schools was made after the city and the teachers union failed to reach an agreement on a teacher evaluation system, a decision that cost the city nearly $60 million in federal funds.

The city hopes that by closing and reopening the schools, they can replace at least half of the staff and therefore still qualify for the money.

"[The department] should be called 'DOM,' 'Department of Miseducation,' because they tell these parents that it's us taking away from their child's place at a public school system, that their children are failing," said a teacher at the Thursday meeting. "But our children flourished and their grades are dropping. It's not us who's failing or failing their children, it's the teachers that's not teaching them right that's failing them."

"I am disgusted that my child, who should be enjoying school as an experience, is looking at it as, 'I got to get ready for this test. I got to get ready for this test, or else her school could be the next one on the chopping block,'" said a parent at the meeting.

The panel vote on school closures was much calmer than in previous years, when thousands of opponents noisily protested the proceedings.

This time around, opponents to the school closings anticipated that because a majority of panel members are appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the school overhauls would be adopted.

Instead, the teachers' union and other education advocates are planning on legal measures to prevent the plan from taking effect.

Hours before the panel meeting, DOE officials had a change of heart about two schools, Queens' Grover Cleveland High School and Brooklyn's Bushwick Community High School, and announced that they were off the list of schools marked for overhauls.

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott defended the move, saying it was the best move for students.

"Building on the strength of these schools and taking them up to a higher level, and then correcting whatever weaknesses these schools may have, and making sure that they're no longer there. So this is all about our students and making sure our students benefit int the long run," said Walcott.

The teachers' union strongly opposes the closings, and encouraged opponents to rally at City Hall on Thursday afternoon, rather than attend the panel's meeting.

Demonstrators said they wanted to bring their message to Mayor Bloomberg, who controls the school system.

"At the beginning of this school year, the city announced the list of schools that they said they needed to close. The schools that they are voting on tonight were not on that list. They were never on that list," said United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew. "These schools were part of a program, these schools were all making progress."

The PEP previously voted in February to phase out or close 23 schools, and another three charter schools are closing as well.

This is now largest number of schools the DOE has closed in a single school year.

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