The school year opened this week with great uncertainty at the 19 schools that the city tried to close last year but were saved by six judges. The Daily News and NY 1 did stories that featured Jamaica High School as part of their coverage of the opening day of the school year. Since I am the chapter leader at Jamaica and know the situation very well, I think it would be informative to explain what is going on at our facility so that people can understand how kids in closing schools are the casualties of school reform.
Back in December 2009 the Department of Education introduced proposals to phase out 19 schools but their plan was flawed because they wrote inadequate Educational Impact Statements. After the Panel for Educational Policy voted at 3:00 a.m. on January 27, 2010 to close all of these schools, the UFT (with the complete support of ICE), NAACP and others sued and won to prevent the closings.
Judge Joan Lobis decided on March 26, 2010 that the UFT was right when she ruled that the 19 schools should remain open. On July 1, an appeals court agreed 5-0 with the original decision. What was left unclear was whether new schools could still start in our buildings even though the old schools still existed. We believed they could not and wanted the UFT to go back to court on the issue to prevent the new schools from invading our space. I spoke with the chapter leader from Beach Channel and he agreed with me on this issue. I also emailed President Michael Mulgrew to no avail.
We thought we had a strong case by just looking at the flawed Educational Impact Statements. For Jamaica, the impact statement said that by phasing out Jamaica it would create space for the two new schools. No phase out equals no space for the new schools right? Well the UFT disagreed and on July 14 they basically sold out many of the nineteen schools by agreeing to allow the new schools to start in our buildings. In exchange we were supposed to get support.
Not only have we not received any help from either UFT or DOE after their July 14 agreement, our pupils have had to suffer the indignity of returning to school and being squeezed into the middle of the building in an area that looks antiquated while two new schools and an expanding third on the east and west wings install modern equipment for their small schools. It's appalling how conditions in the same building are so vastly different between schools.
Then to hear the mayor and chancellor say on the first school day that schools such as Jamaica don't deserve support is unconscionable. The corporate mindset has gone overboard. Bloomberg and Klein want to close our school so they will compromise the education of our students to prove their point. Even I am having trouble believing that people can be that vindictive against innocent children.
If anyone is thinking that someone should have told Judge Lobis about how her decision has been violated by DOE and UFT, we did. A Jamaica teacher named Debbie Saal, and I along with a student and parent wrote up something called an Order to Show Cause asking the judge to intervene as opening up new schools appeared to us to be a violation of her decision. In our petition, we asked the judge to stop two new schools from opening in our building since the Educational Impact Statement that created these schools was flawed as their existence was predicated on Jamaica phasing out, which it no longer is. We had many strong arguments saying that Jamaica’s pupils were suffering irreparable harm because we were losing so much space and funding.
Unfortunately, Judge Lobis, when she saw our papers, said because the case was closed our papers were therefore not timely. Translation, when the UFT made their deal with the DOE to let the new schools co-locate in our facility, we had no legal recourse. Since it is up to the judge to decide whether or not to intervene in a case, it means our legal options are very limited.
That's where it stands right now. Our school is open as an entity but with very few freshmen and no help coming from anywhere. Our programs are either nonexistent or a shell of their former selves. Some Advanced Placement classes have been dropped; there are no music classes; science classes meet one fewer period per week, many electives no longer exist and all ninth graders in general education, whether they are in our Gateway Honors program, Law program or are English Language Learners, are all in the same subject classes. 25 teachers out of 84 were placed in excess and Absent Teacher Reserves who don't know our school are being sent here to cover classes while our excessed teachers are sent packing all over Queens.
We have been abandoned by Michael Bloomberg, Joel Klein, Michael Mulgrew and Judge Lobis.
Our students and staff are casualties of school reform. Can anyone help us?