Although a large number of Jamaica and Beach Channel High School supporters walked out on the city before it voted to phase out the schools last week, they are vowing to continue to fight to keep the institutions’ future alive.
The United Federation of Teachers said it was looking into the Department of Education’s handling of the school closures to see if there were grounds for a lawsuit. A similar court action last year stopped the city from shutting down the high schools after a judge ruled the DOE did not properly educate parents on the process.
James Eterno, the UFT chapter leader for Jamaica High School, was circumspect about the next move.
“We’re trying to get another forum,” he said Monday.
City Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica) said he would not rule out a lawsuit against the DOE but added that supporters needed to think outside the box.
“It can’t be a meeting where people yell, it has to be something that shakes up the administration,” he said.
The city’s Panel for Educational Policy voted 11-1 to close the two Queens high schools during the meeting that lasted into the early morning hours Friday. The panel also voted to shut down 11 other schools across the city that had a large number of failing students and low school report cards. It had decided to close 10 other city schools three days earlier.
As part of the plan, Jamaica and Beach Channel will stop admitting freshman in the fall and new smaller schools will open inside their buildings.
Thousands of students, teachers, parents and elected officials showed up for the vote last Thursday at Brooklyn Technical High School and gathered outside in the cold to protest the DOE’s plans. A throng of Jamaica High students and their mascot, the beaver, arrived in a school bus for the hearing, led by Eterno.
The teacher spoke to the huge crowd and was broadcast on a JumboTron while he blamed his school’s failures on the bureaucratic nature of the DOE and not the students. He noted that the three other high schools that use Jamaica High Schools’ space at 167-01 Gothic Dr. — Queens Collegiate High, the Hillside Arts & Letters Academy and the High School for Community Leadership — received more tools and money than Jamaica, which he said had more English language learners and special needs students.
“It’s not our failure. It’s City Hall’s failure,” Eterno said.
When the meeting started, the schools’ supporters made such noise during the start of the seven-hour meeting that Schools Chancellor Cathie Black and the panel members could not be heard.
State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) calmed the crowd down when he made his statements to the panel, but he did not dial down the rhetoric against the city. The senator chastised Black and the DOE for leaving Jamaica to fail by not giving it the Smart Boards, computers and other academic materials needed to help the teens.
“I never saw a more blatant example of racism ever,” he said.
Avella said he would continue to fight the vote.
“What you see is just the beginning,” he warned.
Black, who had booed the crowd during an earlier hearing, did not respond to any statements and sat emotionless throughout the meeting.
Following statements from elected officials from the other boroughs, about three quarters of the crowd got up and left the meeting. The walkout started as a word-of-mouth movement in the auditorium, according to supporters who said they did not want to stay up all night for a rubber stamp vote.
“We might as well be talking to the walls,” said David Pecoraro, the United Federation of Teachers chapter leader for Beach Channel High School, after the walkout.
Despite the protests from the student body of the various schools, the DOE stood by its decision.
The panel will vote sometime next month on similar phase-out plans for PS 30 in Jamaica and IS 231 in Springfield Gardens.
Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@c
©2011 Community News Group
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