2011-02-11 / Top Stories

Bloomberg’s Panel Votes To Close BCHS–Again

By Howard Schwach

A contentious crowd of more than 2,000 parents, school staff and students booed, chanted and banged drums Thursday night, but could not keep the Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) from voting to close 12 public schools, including Beach Channel High School in Rockaway Park.

This is the second time in less than a year that the PEP, made up of eight Bloomberg appointees as well as five appointed by the individual borough presidents, voted to close the Rockaway school, the only large comprehensive high school on the peninsula.

The meeting went on for more than five hours, with speaker after speaker excoriating newly-appointed school chancellor Cathie Black and Bloomberg.

In the past three days, the panel has voted to close 22 schools, the great majority of them large, comprehensive high schools such as Beach Channel High School.

The city’s attempt to close the school, and 18 others, last year was halted by a lawsuit brought by the United Federation of Teachers and the NAACP, in response to which a judge found that the city hadn’t properly considered the closings’ impact on school communities and that the procedure for closing the schools did not follow the law mandated by the governance law passed by the State Legislature.

“These schools have demonstrated persistently poor performance – in some cases for a decade or more,” said Black. “This is true despite an array of interventions that the DOE implemented in hopes of reversing the pattern.”

That statement drew boos and catcalls from the audience, many of whom got up, turned their backs on Black and walked out of the auditorium at Brooklyn Technical High School, where the meeting was held.

The demonstrators who walked out continued their chanting outside the building.

As soon as Black opened her mouth, demonstrators began to chant, “Black must Go,” and “Black is Whack.”

Most of the 350 people who spoke supported their home schools, and speaker after speaker voiced their opinion that their words would do no good, that the vote was simply a rubber stamp for Bloomberg, whose agenda has been to close large high schools and replace them with several smaller schools in the same building.

“We’ll scream till we’re hoarse, and you’ll still close our school,” one speaker yelled.

City Councilman Jumaane Williams told Black, “You show utter contempt and scorn for the parents and children you are supposed to be serving.”

While it was not clear which locals spoke at the meeting, there was a hearing at Beach Channel High School on January 13 at which many school constituents voiced their strong opinion in front of DOE officials.

“The department has failed our school,” said Chris Petrillo, a John Jay College student who graduated from Beach Channel High School last June. “There should be reorganization there, not here.”

“You have shown an utter contempt for Rockaway and for this school community,” said David Pecoraro, the school’s UFT chapter leader. “You have deemed us unworthy to continue after you took away all of our resources and put them elsewhere, in schools favored by the mayor. The mayor poisoned the well by telling parents that they would be irresponsible if they sent their children to this school.”

“The mayor took the wheels off of our school, and then complained that we failed because we could not run the race,” said another longtime teacher. “Instead of putting back the wheels, he firebombed the car.”

“We really need the DOE’s help and it has turned its back on us,” said teacher Lavern Allan Powell. “I have two kids who were just shot, two girls who are pregnant, two others who just gave birth. We have lots of truants, lots of [English Language Learners]. Who is going to address their problems, where are they going to school when Beach Channel is gone?”

Shael Polakow-Suransky, the new deputy chancellor, was at the meeting and pointed out why Beach Channel High School was slated for closing.

“I understand that we have to take seriously the very deep connection that this school has to the community and how difficult this decision must be for that community,” Polakow-Suransky told the people in the audience. “This is not because the kids or their teachers have failed. This is taking place because we don’t believe that the necessary educational growth is possible in the present situation. This school is not closing. There will be a new group of educational institutions that will be better able to address the need of the community’s students.”

In response to a question of where those students who will not be accepted to the new schools in the building will go, the deputy chancellor said, “Our job is not to make schools that will not accept the kids from their community.” He did admit, however, that not all the Rockaway students who would normally go to BCHS will be accommodated by the new schools.

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