2010-11-19 / Top Stories

‘Not Informed That Plan To Close BCHS In Place’

Queens Supe:
By Howard Schwach

Lew Simon makes a point as graduate Chris Petrillo looks on. Lew Simon makes a point as graduate Chris Petrillo looks on. The meeting held Monday night in the small auditorium at Beach Channel High School was, for many in the audience, surreal.

They had been aware of the process to phase out and close the local comprehensive high school since December of 2009 when Department of Education spokesperson Will Havenann told The Wave, “We went to the school today to announce our proposal to phase out the school. There will be no more incoming freshman classes at the school and it will be closed in three years.”

Of course, that was prior to the illegal meetings held at the school early this year, meetings that led in July to a judge overturning the decision to close the school because the DOE had not followed the procedures outlined by the legislature’s school governance act.

Then, in early November, the DOE issued a list of 47 schools that would be phased out and closed over the next few years, including Beach Channel High School.

The Queens UFT representative makes a plea to give the school more programs. The Queens UFT representative makes a plea to give the school more programs. Despite that, Queens High School Superintendent Juan Mendez, who has been in that job for just six weeks, told the small crowd at the school, “I was not informed that there is a plan in place to close the school.”

That brought groans from the 100 people, mostly school staff and community activists, in the room.

“I am here to listen to parents and staff and to bring back ideas about how to keep the school serving the students of Rockaway,” Mendez added.

In addition, a DOE “Fact Sheet” handed out to the participants stated that keeping the school open with increased resources is one of the two options on the table.

Judging by the reaction of people in the audience, nobody believed either Mendez or the DOE fact sheet.

Queens High School Superintendent Juan Mendez said he knew of no plan to close BCHS. Queens High School Superintendent Juan Mendez said he knew of no plan to close BCHS. In fact, right after the court ruled in July that the schools could not be closed, School Chancellor Joel Klein said, “We are disappointed in the court’s decision, which will force us to keep open schools that are failing our children. As we move forward, the mayor and I are committed to providing our families and children with better schools and more options.”

From the beginning, the meeting was contentious, with Mendez standing alone before the audience.

Beach Channel High School teacher and UFT chapter leader David Pecoraro said that the meeting was illegal since parents were not notified in writing or by written notice 10 days prior to the meeting, as mandated in the chancellor’s regulation.

Several parents in the audience said that they had received a message by telephone late the previous week, but no written notice.

Wave columnist and former teacher Norm Scott makes a point. Wave columnist and former teacher Norm Scott makes a point. Mendez decided to keep the meeting going, despite the breach of city rules.

“The DOE obviously did not learn its lesson from the judge’s ruling last time,” Pecoraro said angrily. “The same thing will happen this time if you don’t adjourn this meeting and give proper notice for the next one.”

Mendez said that the meeting was not a hearing on closing the school, but simply a “parent engagement” meeting to find out what could be done to improve the school.

“I want to hear the community and bring your ideas back to the DOE,” he said. “I want to hear your voices.”

Several speakers called for the school to be kept open with increased resources.

BCHS teacher and UFT chair David Pecoraro, challenges Queens High School Superintendent Juan Mendez. BCHS teacher and UFT chair David Pecoraro, challenges Queens High School Superintendent Juan Mendez. Mendez noted their comments and suggestions on a lined pad. There was no recording device present in the room.

Chris Petrillo, a student leader in last year’s fight to keep the school open and now a student at John Jay College in Manhattan, asked Mendez, “Why don’t you tell us the truth? Fix us, don’t close us.”

“Where are you going to put the students who don’t get into the new schools,” he asked. “John Adams, which you are also going to close? Richmond Hill, someplace in Manhattan?”

Petrillo said that he had spoken with students at the new Rockaway Park High School for Environmental Sustainability, which the DOE put into the Beach Channel High School building this September.

“That school is not doing well,” Petrillo said. “Many students who wanted to go to Beach Channel were sent there instead, and now they are very unhappy about being there. They want out.”

Mendez said that he would bring the suggestions back to his superiors, but that he could not guarantee a timetable for any changes or improvements to the school based on those suggestions.

“At this point, we have no specific plans in mind for Beach Channel High School,” the fact sheet says.

The truth, however, several people in the crowd said to The Wave, points elsewhere.

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