The Department of Education's ("Department") decisions to close or co-locate schools frequently involves the loss of critical space and programs, which can have serious impacts on students' education. Historically, in making these decisions the Department has a poor track record of soliciting and incorporating parental and community input. Despite new parental engagement procedures added to the law in 2009 to facilitate greater parental consultation in major school change decisions, this year's story does not seem to be markedly different. The Department treated these hearings as procedural hurdles in order to satisfy the letter of the law, rather than an opportunity to engage in a productive dialogue about the impacts of proposed school closures and co-locations on students and what is in the best interests of affected students.
By examining the New York State Education Law, Educational Impact Statements (EIS), transcripts from public hearings, and by conducting a parent survey of 873 parents at 34 schools affected by co-locations, the report concludes that the Department's parental engagement process provided insufficient information and left too many questions unanswered questions about how students and the school community will be affected by these major school decisions.
The report's key finding is that the EIS -- the official document assessing the impact that a proposed change will have on school services -- does not provide adequate information for members of the school community to understand and comment about how students will be affected by these decisions. This finding is consistent with the courts' recent decision that the school closure process is flawed.
Further, if not well-planned and coordinated, closures and co-locations can disrupt students' education and decrease their access to school facilities such as classrooms, gymnasiums and cafeterias.