The public hearing on the proposed new high school co-location at JHS 226 in South Ozone Park on Oct. 23 was unlike most co-location hearings. It wasn’t a long night for irate parents and teachers demanding Mayor Bloomberg’s and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott’s heads on a platter.
Whether it was support, apathy, or just cynicism, only five parents of students at JHS 226, and the middle school that was co-located in the same building this year, MS 297, spoke against the proposed new high school at the hearing, which lasted just about 25 minutes.
The new high school, which the Panel for Educational Policy — the city Department of Education’s policy-making arm — was to approve Wednesday night, would open in the building at 121-10 Rockaway Blvd. next September with 75 to 85 ninth-grade students. The enrollment in the school would increase to 300 to 400 students by 2017-18, while enrollment in JHS 226 will drop from 1,371 students this year to 945 to 975 students in 2017-18. MS 297’s enrollment will increase from 315 to 345 students in that time frame. A third school in the building, a special education school, will stay steady at roughly 40 students.
The MS 297 co-location was approved by the PEP in March and the school opened in September. Last year, JHS 226 parents fought unsuccessfully to stop the co-location.
The DOE has argued that the new co-location would give another high school option to the communities served by John Adams, Richmond Hill and August Martin high schools. Most of the students who attend JHS 226 and MS 297 live in South Ozone Park, South Richmond Hill and South Jamaica.
“The DOE believes the District 27 community will benefit as a whole by having an additional option,” the agency said in a statement.
Michael Duvalle, representing District 27’s Community Education Council, said the school is already digesting this year’s co-location and is not prepared for another one.
“We have heard of problems with bullying between the two schools, we have heard of problems with the dining areas in the building,” he explained at the hearing.
Duvalle also argued that now is a bad time to enact a co-location, with the Bloomberg administration leaving office in two months.
“We also believe they should put in a moratorium since there is a new administration coming in,” he said. “We don’t trust this present administration to do something good for our kids.”
Juliet Johnson, president of MS 297’s parent-teacher association, said her daughter’s school is just getting its footing.
“I’m totally against the high school,” she said. “The principals here are doing such a wonderful job. The school is going in the right direction. If something is going good, just leave it alone.”
Mona Lisa Chandler, a parent of a student at JHS 226, said it is too soon to consider a new school at the building, which is still adapting to the co-location of MS 297.
“With the three schools that are already here, we have to allow room for growth,” she told the panel at the hearing.
Chandler suggested co-locating the high school at August Martin High School in South Jamaica, where the DOE is planning on opening a new elementary school.
“Let the new high school co-locate with high school students,” she said.
Takia Moore, parent of a 10-year-old student at JHS 226, said she is concerned about the safety of her daughter being in the same building as 17- and 18-year-olds.
“You cannot have a child mix with adolescents, it creates chaos and problems,” she said, also rejecting the idea of “more policing” for the school.
“Our kids don’t need more policing, they need more education,” she said.
She also expressed concern the co-locations will hurt the entire city in the long run.
“Years from now, you’re going to be paying for it, you’re going to paying for it by taking care of these children who are now adults who don’t have the education they need to take care of themselves,” she said.