The city Department of Education announced late last week that it is planning to remove the trailers at Richmond Hill High School by 2016 and keep the school’s annex, scheduled to close next year, open — for now.
But some parents say the move does not address the real problem of overcrowding in the long term.
The plan would allow the DOE to remove trailers in Richmond Hill’s schoolyard that students were originally slated to move back into next year so a new high school can open in the annex, and allow the entire student body to fit in the century-old high school building in two years.
The move comes after months of outrage from parents and staff at Richmond Hill High School who felt the decision last fall to close the annex and move students back into trailers at the school at 89-30 114 St. was an eleventh-hour slap in the face to the Richmond Hill High School community from the Bloomberg administration, who had unsuccessfully tried to close the school in 2012 and reopen it under a different name and with a new administration.
The annex at 94-25 117 St. is the former school building for St. Benedict Joseph LabrÈ parish. The DOE opened the annex to allow for the trailers in Richmond Hill to be removed, though they haven’t been as of yet.
Under the new plan, some Richmond Hill students — the DOE hasn’t decided which yet — will co-locate in the annex building with the new Epic High School, slated to open with its first freshman class in September. In two years, as Epic’s enrollment grows, the Richmond Hill students will be moved back into the main building.
The DOE says the proposal will solve the overcrowding issue because enrollment in Richmond Hill is slated to drop over the next few years, freeing up about 200 more seats. Enrollment there will have dropped enough by then to allow the entire school to be housed in the building, eliminating the need for the trailers.
But Vishnu Mahadeo, co-president of the PTA at Richmond Hill, said there is an uptick in students who want to attend Richmond Hill and the DOE should recognize that and keep the annex rather than decrease enrollment.
“We are not satisfied,” he said. “They have not consulted the parents.”
Mahadeo noted that the new school slated to open in the annex, Epic High School, is meant to focus on black and Hispanic students and neither ethnic group has a large population in Richmond Hill, especially in the immediate community around the school.
“That is not reflective of Richmond Hill,” he said. “That school should be over in South Jamaica.”
Epic is also opening another campus at MS 226 in South Ozone Park, about a mile away.
Cheryl Rose, the other co-president of the PTA, said parents and students were feeling “hurt” and “disheartened” by the DOE’s plans.
“They gave us the annex to deal with the overcrowding problem, but they haven’t dealt with the problem,” Rose said.
She said the plan will offer the school 200 seats in the annex, which now holds 374 Richmond Hill students, but she noted that the school can hold up to 400 students and Epic is only slated to have 94 seats filled next year, leaving close to 100 seats empty.
The DOE said the creation of Epic was in response to input from the community, an assertion Rose denies.
“We’ve petitioned the neighborhood and no one we’ve asked was approached by the DOE,” she said. ”We have asked them to give us some evidence that the community wants this school. They have not provided this.”
Rose hopes either way the DOE will follow through on getting rid of the trailers, noting that they have outlived their original lifespan.
During a public hearing in April, school officials said black mold had been found in some of the trailers and they were concerned about the effects the trailers, which have been on the site for over a decade, may have on students’ health.
Mahadeo said Richmond Hill, which for years suffered from a low graduation rate and overcrowding, is on an upswing.
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 increased from 42 percent in 2010 to 58 percent in 2012.
But that school has had three principals in the past three years and has seen a spike in the number of suspensions recently.
The Panel for Educational Policy, the policy-making body of the DOE, is slated to vote on the proposal on June 17.