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Judge temporarily bars closure of two Buffalo charter schools

Judge temporarily bars closure of two Buffalo charter schools

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A State Supreme Court justice ordered a temporary restraining order Friday barring the Buffalo Board of Education from closing two charter schools and set a preliminary hearing for June 23 on the matter.

Supreme Court Justice Mark A. Montour heard oral arguments from lawyers for the Enterprise and Westminster Community charter schools, as well as from lawyers for the Buffalo School Board, which, on March 31, voted to close the two charters by June 30.

The charter schools have nearly 1,000 students combined.

The board voted to close the charter schools because their student proficiency rates in math and English language arts have historically been lower than the district-wide average.

The Board of Education has plans to bring back Westminster as a public school, just as it had been 17 years prior to being converted to a charter school.

Lawyers for the charter schools argued Friday that the board disregarded a number of state laws and regulations in voting to close the schools. These included failing to hold a hearing by Sept. 30 to solicit public comment about the schools' applications to renew their charters, and using an outdated framework in evaluating the charter schools, rather than using a framework from 2019 that it was required to use.

Lawyers for the charter schools also argued that the Buffalo School Board, in violation of the state’s Open Meetings Law, had discussed the charter schools’ fate in executive sessions on March 24 and 31, and did not discuss the matter in public session.

The charter schools’ lawyers said they were not asking the judge to weigh in on the merits of the schools' charter renewal request.

They acknowledged that the schools had no right to a renewal of their charters, but insisted that the School Board is required to adhere to statutory obligations in the state's Charter School Act, but did not follow the statutorily-prescribed process.

A lawyer for the School Board said the board has a right not to renew charters.

Eighteen percent of Enterprise students in grades three through eight were considered proficient in English language arts during the 2018-19 school year, while 13% were proficient in math, according to the most recent state data.

At Westminster, 22% of students in grades three through eight were proficient in ELA, while 19% were proficient in math.

As a comparison, 25% of Buffalo Public School students in grades three through eight were proficient in ELA, while 19% were proficient in math.

Lawyers for Westminster and Enterprise have argued that the most recent state scores are from two years ago and are better than those at many district schools with a similar percentage of poor students.

A lawyer for Westminster said that since the school's last renewal in 2019, they have had little time to prove themselves before the Covid-19 pandemic hit and upended the education system. Yet, she said, student performance improved during that period.

The Buffalo News: Good Morning, Buffalo

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