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Community Charter School loses fight to stay open, as judge backs decision by state

Community Charter School in Buffalo has lost its yearlong battle to stay open.

State Supreme Court Justice John A. Michalek ruled Thursday in favor of the state Education Department to close the school because of poor student performance.

The judge dismissed the charter school’s lawsuit against the state and lifted his preliminary injunction, which had allowed the school to remain open this school year after the Board of Regents refused to renew the school’s charter last April.

Although the school will stay open through the end of June, the court decision leaves 316 children in kindergarten through sixth grade scrambling for new schools to attend in September. The school, at 404 Edison Ave. in the Kensington-Eggert area, has been open since 2002.

“This ruling is the final nail in the coffin for our school, our community and worst of all our children,” Daniel S. Ricigliano, president of the school’s board of trustees, said in a statement. “It confirms our belief the state has turned a blind eye to our efforts to provide a safe, nurturing learning environment in one of the inner-city’s more depressed neighborhoods.

“Obviously the state would rather force parents to send their children back to the failing Buffalo School System rather than allow them to grow and prosper here at COMMUNITY.”

The closure of Community Charter has been expected by Buffalo School District leaders and others who witnessed the fate of the former Pinnacle Charter School at 115 Ash St.

The battle over Pinnacle’s future began in March 2012 when the Regents decided not to renew that school’s charter for the 2012-13 school year because of a downturn in scores on state-mandated proficiency tests.

A court injunction in June 2012 kept Pinnacle open in the last school year, but two court decisions over the summer upheld the Regents’ decision. With two weeks left before the start of the school year, the Buffalo Public Schools took over Pinnacle and renamed it School 115. The district is currently wrestling with where to place those students in the fall.

In issuing his ruling Thursday, Michalek referred to an appellate court decision regarding Pinnacle and said he could not find any legal grounds on which to keep his injunction for Community Charter in place.

Denise L. Luka, head of the school, said in a statement that the court’s decision is crushing to the entire school community.

“We all feel as though we have been punched in the gut,” she said.

“Our board, faculty and staff have all worked so hard to address those areas in need of improvement and implement dramatic changes in terms of school leadership and academic performance. My heart bleeds for our young scholars. We will now focus on finishing the year on a positive note and helping our student and families with their transition into Buffalo Public Schools.”

In refusing to renew the school’s charter last April, the Regents cited the school’s “dramatically declining student performance,” poor and declining English and math proficiency scores, low student engagement, lack of data-driven instruction, charter noncompliance and leadership turmoil.

“In short, Community’s performance on (English language) and mathematics assessments over the most recent charter term can be described as declining from year to year, being among the lowest in the state and in the City of Buffalo,” stated a report by the State Education Department Charter School Office.

Back in June, when Michalek had granted Community Charter a preliminary injunction, Ricigliano said there were many examples of how the school has worked to improve its performance, including the establishment of a school-turnaround plan, the hiring of a new principal, instructional coaches and consultants, and a revamping and expansion of the charter school board.

But late last year, the Education Department renewed its motion to dismiss Community Charter’s suit against the state, and the case was argued before Michalek in February.

“We are disappointed with today’s decision,” the school’s lawyer, Lisa A. Coppola, said in the statement, “and we remain committed to supporting COMMUNITY and its families in any way we can.”