2009-12-18 / Columnists

The Rockaway Beat

Beach Channel High School Closing: What Isn't The DOE Telling Us?
Commentary By Howard Schwach

Beach Channel Drive High School Beach Channel Drive High School So, the Department of Education has announced the phase-out and closing of Beach Channel High School, something that I have been predicting for months.

The DOE went a long way in des tro - y ing Beach Channel High School by placing two competing programs in Rockaway, one that drew all of the high level students and the other that took the rest of those who could read and write.

If you do not believe that the Scholars' Academy, with its own high school, right across Beach Channel Drive from BCHS drew some of the top students that might have attended BCHS and that the high school unit of the Channel View School for Research drew the rest of the motivated students, just talk to some parents.

What BCHS was left with were all the students who could not get into those two schools.

I spoke with Deputy Chancellor John White last week, shortly after the announcement was made, and he told me that there will be a new school in the BCHS building next year to share the facility with the Channel View School for Research.

That school, he says, will be designated as 27Q324, housing 432 students in grades 9 to 12.

He also said that the school would not have an "admission screen," meaning that it will take any student who wants to attend.

That begs the question: If the students are going to be the same, what sense does it make to close the school in the first place?

If the Far Rockaway High School closing is any example of the way it will play out, then many of the students who would have been slated for Beach Channel High School will wind up instead at mainland schools such as John Adams. There is no place else to go because, for the first time in more than 120 years, there will not be a comprehensive high school on the peninsula.

White was right when he said that the change will be good for the security of the neighborhood and for the community in general.

The questions that need to be asked are, will it be good for Rockaway's students, those who can't earn their way in to the new schools; and, will it be good for the mainland schools where the Rockaway kids finally wind up?

First of all, I believe that White was being disingenuous in his answer to my question about whether or not the new school would be for all Rockaway students.

Perhaps I'm being too tough on him. Perhaps he is being lied to by his bosses just as we are.

In any case, I believe that the new school at BCHS will turn out to be a charter school hosted by State Senator Malcolm Smith, and will quickly become the high school equivalent of his Peninsula Preparatory Academy that now runs in some trailers in Arverne By The Sea.

Call me skeptical, but I see it coming. It's almost as if the DOE set out to destabilize the school so that Smith could eventually have it as his own.

After the announcement of the phase-out of Far Rockaway High School in 2007, many of the thugs who could not find places in the new, small schools at the Far Rockaway Edu ca - tional Campus were sent in stead to Beach Channel High School, completely destabilizing that school.

We've written about this previously.

From The Wave edition of November 30, 2007.

The opening months at Beach Chan - nel High School were marred this year by a spate of disruptive incidents, including drug possession, weapons possession, fighting, insubordination to school security agents and staff, and even an attack on the school's dean. Most of these incidents were perpetrated by students who were transferred to the Rockaway Park school from Far Rockaway High School, officials and school staff say.

In all, sources say, more than 50 students who are zoned to attend Far Rockaway High School because they live nearby showed up at Beach Channel High School in September with transfers in hand.

A Beach Channel High School staff member, who asked not to be identified because he had no permission to speak with the press, said that many of the transfers were problem students.

"Some of them had criminal records, some had been suspended for fighting and for theft," the source said. "Others were gang members in their home neighborhoods and were at war with the gang members at Beach Channel [High School] even before they got here."

The source told The Wave that two administrators at the school outlined the problems caused by the newcomers in a memo that was sent to Department of Education officials.

While this newspaper was denied access to the memo by DOE officials, a source at the school said that the memo detailed the problems caused by the transfers, including the 50 who came from Far Rockaway High School. In addition, 16 other transfers came to BCHS from alternative programs, including some who had been incarcerated. Eleven came from full-day special education programs, including the hospital day school program.

"[The transferred students] caused lots of mayhem in the building for the first few months," the source said. "From the beginning of September

until mid-October, more than 25 of those students were involved in disciplinary actions, some of them very severe. They were a real problem."

Last month, the DOE placed BCHS on its list of "Impact Schools," those that require special attention and more school security resources.

That designation came after an incident where a Far Rockaway High School student got into the building and joined transfers from that school in beating another student in the cafeteria. And, while the DOE admits that there were many problematic transfers to Beach Channel High School, a spokesperson said that the school was not being singled out in any way.

"Beach Channel has not been singled out as a dumping ground for troubled students," deputy press secretary Andrew Jacob told New York Times columnist Samuel Freedman. "I don't see how anyone can make the argument that one school is being favored or disfavored over any other."

He said that many of the Far Rockaway students were sent to Beach Channel simply because that school had open seats and is close to Far Rockaway.

"There is nothing out of the ordinary about the process of getting their transfers," he added. Any large high school in the city is going to be dealing with students from a wide variety of backgrounds."

Will this progression of closing schools and reopening them for a small percentage of the original student body, sending the "unwanted" elsewhere and proclaiming victory continue with the Beach Channel closing?

Will the "other school" at BCHS turn out to be a charter run by a politicallyconnected local such as Mal Smith or Floyd Flake, as we have perdicted?

Only time will tell.

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