2009-04-17 / Editorial/Opinion

Another Example Of DOE Spin

There should be no doubt in anybody's mind that the bottom line for the Department of Education should be the safety of every student attending its schools. That seems not to be the case in Rockaway, however, at least in Belle Harbor, where the former Temple Beth-El community center that now belongs to the city continues to deteriorate even as kids learn, eat and play within its walls. When the city bought the building from the congregation last August, it was not new to the school bureaucracy. The city had leased the building for more than a decade to use as a special education school. DOE supervisors had been told of the leaking walls, the peeling lead-based paint, the friable asbestos and the mold that permeated the building. They knew full well of the cell antenna on the roof. The city bought it anyway, probably in a bind for seats for a growing autistic and severely emotionally handicapped population that it wanted to keep isolated from the mainstream students. In September of last year, just before the school opened, a DOE spokesperson told us that a plan to remediate all the problems has been drawn up and that the school was safe for both students and staff. Since then, parents and staff say, nothing has been done except for some cosmetic cleaning and painting in late August. Now, 51 students and staff are suing the city for allowing the continued use of the building in the face of all the evidence that it is unsafe. The toxic building must be either closed temporarily and made safe, or else closed permanently and the students transferred to other, safer schools. The staff is asking that the DOE take the first step by ordering an independent environmental study of the building. That is the least the DOE can do. It is time for the DOE to meet its special education mandates; to step up and do what is right for a population that has been discriminated against for years.

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