With time running out, the Richmond Hill High School community called out the big guns to help fight plans to close its annex this year and move more than 400 students back to the notoriously overcrowded school.
During a town hall meeting Tuesday night hosted by state Sen. James Sanders (D-South Ozone Park), elected officials and school leaders demanded the city Department of Education rescind the closure of the school’s 402-seat annex at the former St. Benedict Joseph Labre school building several blocks away at 94-25 117 St.
The closure was approved by the DOE in the last months of the Bloomberg administration, but Mayor de Blasio’s team has not cancelled it, as they have with several other 11th-hour education changes, such as co-locations of some charter schools.
The plan was to open a new school, focusing on black and Hispanic students, at the St. Benedict’s site and move the Richmond Hill students back to the main campus.
“This school is on the way up,” Sanders said at the meeting. “We have new dynamic leadership that is doing something great.”
He was referring to the school’s principal, Neil Ganesh, the third in three years.
Vishnu Mahadeo, co-president of the Richmond Hill High School Parent Teacher Association, said another issue was that the DOE plans on going back to a multiple-session schedule when the annex closes. He said multiple-session schedules is what caused issues in the school before the annex opened.
“We do not want to get back to those bad times,” he said, adding that student performance has been on the rise since the annex opened.
According to an education impact statement released by the DOE in November, Richmond Hill’s four-year graduation rate rose from 57 percent in 2010 to 60 percent in 2012, and the percent of students graduating with a Regents diploma increasing from 42 percent in 2010 to 58 percent in 2012.
Public Advocate Letitia James also attended the meeting and said she was especially concerned with the state of the trailers in Richmond Hill’s schoolyard, which are more than a decade old and way past their lifespan.
“This is unacceptable,” said James, who has filed suit against the de Blasio administration seeking to have the annex closure reversed. “Children should not be forced to learn in outdated trailers. They should not be forced to wear coats in class because it’s too cold.”
James’ lawsuit goes before a judge April 23.
Cheryl Rose, co-president of the Richmond Hill PTA, said the trailers have mold and mildew and are a danger to students.
James added that she would tour the trailers with Schools Chancellor Carmen Fari–a so she could see the problem firsthand.
When the annex opened in 2010, it was meant as a step toward removing the trailers, though not one has been removed yet.
Several students, teachers and parents pleaded with the DOE at the meeting to keep the annex open and get rid of the trailers.
John Rainone, a student, said the DOE was unfairly targeting his school.
“John Adams has an annex, why can’t we keep ours?” he asked.
Both John Adams and Richmond Hill were scheduled to be closed in 2012, but the United Federation of Teachers sued the city to stop the closures, and won.
Student Michelle Torres said the news of the annex closing affected her personally.
“When I hear the annex will close, I get depressed, I get angry,” she said.
Although the new school at St. Benedict’s is scheduled to open this September, supporters of keeping the annex there are optimistic.
“There’s a new DOE in town,” Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows) said, adding that he believed the de Blasio administration would be more persuadable than the previous one.
Rose rejects calls that the fight was lost because the new school was already soliciting students
“They may be in the brochure, but we’re in the building.” Rose said. “And we’re not going to stop fighting until we’re not there anymore. And even then, we won’t give up.”
She added that the excuse the DOE used to open the new school — that it was wanted by the community — was unfounded.
“I’m black and Hispanic, we love our black and Hispanic students,” she said. “But that is not this neighborhood. They don’t know this neighborhood and I have yet to speak to one resident or parent in this community who wants that school. I don’t know who the DOE is asking.”