Parents and teachers at two area schools are furious over a Department of Education proposal to move one school into another, saying that it would lead to overcrowding, bullying and an environment that is not conducive to learning.
The DOE wants to move Cambria Heights Academy for Specialized Technology, a high school with 150 students in District 29, into MS 72, a middle school in District 28, with about 870 students that already houses three academies: The International Academy of Law and Justice, The Academy of Exploration and Discovery, and The Young Scholars and Leaders Academy. Each has its own dean and guidance counselor.
“This proposal is just absurd,” said Dmytro Fedkowskyj, Queens member of the Panel for Educational Policy. “I can’t imagine that they would actually put this forward and move a school that is developed in this building and move it after two years and break up the continuity of learning that has taken place here.”
About 60 people voiced their outrage at a meeting at the academy located at 188-04 91 Ave. in Hollis on Feb.1, where they were joined by City Councilmen Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) and James Sanders Jr. (D-Laurelton), who also oppose the proposal. The group vowed to fight to keep it from being implemented.
Suggestions on how they could included flooding the DOE with phone calls and letters as well as bombarding 311 with complaints. Some also suggested finding out schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott’s public schedule and confronting him at those events.
The law mandates that there must be a 45-day public comment period from the time such a proposal is officially released, Fedkowskyj said. The CHA plan had not been made public by press time.
Within that 45-day time frame, the DOE will hold a public hearing at each of the schools and agency officials will be present. The transcripts and all other public comments will be sent to the Panel on Educational Policy and will be made available to the public on the DOE website, before a final decision is made.
The next PEP meeting will be held today, Feb. 9, at 6 p.m. at Brooklyn Technical High School at 29 Fort Greene Place in Brooklyn. The co-location and more than a dozen school phaseouts will be discussed. But Fedkowskyj warned that they are expecting a large crowd attending, the meeting will be several hours long and not everyone may have the opportunity to voice their concerns.
Michael Beaudry, a social studies teacher at CHA, said the school is geared toward technology and has put a lot of money and effort into developing an online curriculum, which the students are doing very well with.
“Our kids are succeeding in our classrooms,” Beaudry said. “Our kids are having a good time here. They are getting a quality education here. Our staff is thriving here as well, and I think those are extremely important elements for a successful school.
“We don’t want to change that. We want to stay because what we are doing here works,” Beaudry continued. “And my philosophy is, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” which garnered much applause from the attendees.
Francis Thomas, a spokesman for the DOE said public school space is at a premium throughout the city and more than 700 of the agency’s more than 1,700 schools share space, which is more than 40 percent. And he added that most students do well in co-located schools.
Washington Sanchez, a UFT representative, said the school was never supposed to be where it is presently located, rather it was to be housed at Campus Magnet in Cambria Heights, but that plan never came to fruition.
“So after two years of making this your home, they say pack up your things and leave, and where are we going to put you? — In a school that is struggling — but it’s doing better, and we are going to put you there and create more pressure on that school,” Sanchez said. “MS 72 parents are lovely, but they don’t want you there either.”
Thomas said the current academy building was chosen because it was suitable and available on short notice, but too costly to keep as a permanent location, adding that the school administration knew from the beginning that the space was only for short-term use.
Mahalia Presod-Onuzuruike, a parent and PTA member at MS 72, located at 133-25 Guy R. Brewer Blvd. in Jamaica, said the plan is a bad idea for several reasons and added the rest of the PTA members there are also against the proposal.
She said a lack of space at the four-floor school forces students to carry their books everywhere because they don’t have lockers. In addition, the students have to share one gym, one science lab and one cafeteria.
Teachers must divide their classrooms with other teachers, and they, like their students, have to travel with their books and belongings because there is no place to store them, according to Presod-Onuzuruike. Students have to get a key use the bathrooms, which are locked to prevent students from roaming the hallways and getting into trouble.
“I think your school has developed a good program here, and I believe that we all need to get together to fight to keep your program here,” Presod-Onuzuruike said. “Our school is not equipped to have the program that your school has.”
The DOE disagrees. Thomas said there is plenty of space at MS 72, noting that last year the building had an audited enrollment of 731 and a utilization rate of 47 percent.
Robert Sahibdeen, who is also a parent and PTA member at MS 72, agreed with Presod-Onuzuruike. He welcomed CHA parents and students to visit the school anytime they want to better understand how programs there work. He just warned against staying permanently.
“It’s not going to work to have high school and middle school kids together,” he said. “Various things could take place. You might have bullying because we are going to have ... 18- and 19-year-olds walking alongside 10-year-olds.”
Thomas said the DOE has mixed middle schools and high schools all over the city as well as a significant number of secondary schools where grades 6 through 12 are housed, so the agency is confident that CHA and MS 72 could come together easily.
The DOE would not, however, address how a such a plan specifically benefits students.
The exact details of whether students of various ages would commingle during lunchtime and other parts of the day would be organized by the building council made up of leadership from each school, according to Thomas.
State Sen. Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica), who serves as co-chairwoman of the Senate Committee on New York City School Governance, also opposes the idea. In a Feb. 2 letter to the DOE she cited safety concerns and cramped conditions among her reasons for opposing the plan.
“The students of Cambria Heights Academy are fully entrenched at their school and relocating will only hurt the progress they have had,” Huntley wrote. “The building they’re currently in is equipped with wireless Internet and has many new features that has enabled them to work with different forms of technology and remain in a positive learning environment.”