Waving signs that said Mayor Bloomberg is holding the eight Queens schools he proposes to close “hostage,” Queens City Council members and parent leaders gathered last week to protest the plan to shutter the large institutions and said the move has already resulted in poorer programming and could lead to a spike in student dropouts.
“This is the time of year when teachers and students are focusing on final exams, and the last thing they need is to worry about the future of their schools,” Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) said at the protest, held last Thursday in Forest Hills. “The sudden announcement of eight schools closing in Queens has created a great deal of confusion between parents and administrators alike.”
The mayor proposed closing 33 schools in his State of the City address in January, including Newtown High School in Elmhurst, Grover Cleveland High School in Ridgewood, Flushing High School, August Martin High School in Jamaica, Richmond Hill High School, John Adams High School in Ozone Park, Long Island City High School and Bryant High School in Astoria.
City officials said they plan to close the schools because of low graduation rates and test scores, though legislators, teachers and parents have all said that the institutions have improved since entering a federal improvement program at the beginning of the school year.
The schools would be closed and reopened next school year with about half the teachers replaced and potentially with new names.
The city Panel for Educational Policy, which is made up primarily of mayoral appointees and has never rejected any of Bloomberg’s proposals that came before it, is expected to vote on the school closures at its April 26 meeting.
After the mayor announced the closures, council members and parents said the schools have lost programs, including those that help seniors apply for college.
“We had a mentorship program that helped our kids that has been taken away, and it made a big difference for the kids,” said Jose Ferruzola, the Parent Teacher Association president at August Martin High School. “It really affects them.”
Council members said they are especially concerned about students who could drop out of the schools pegged for closure, especially considering that a recent report from the Urban Youth Collaborative showed that of the 33,000 students in 21 high schools closed between 2000 and 2009, 5,162 dropped out.
Parent leaders and legislators say morale has plummeted at the schools slated for closure, which they said could contribute to students leaving the system.
“The common denominator to the eight schools slated to be closed is that they all service high rates of English Language Learners and special needs children,” Councilwoman Diana Reyna (D-Ridgewood) said. “By turning his back to students with the highest need, Mayor Bloomberg is abandoning the principle of equal opportunity for all children regardless of race or disability. This mayor claims to be known as the ‘education mayor,’ but I think a more accurate title is the ‘highest school dropout mayor.’”
While the mayor seems focused on closing the schools, legislators said they believe they might be able to persuade him to drop at least one from his list before the PEP vote.
“We are going to be having hearings at all the schools about the closures, and ostensibly we have an opportunity to make a case to keep them open,” Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) said. “We hope they’ll be taken off the list before the PEP vote. If they’re not, we’re in trouble.”