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DOE plans to put two schools within Jamaica High

An agreement between the United Federation of Teachers and the city Department of Education that is expected to bring in two new schools to Jamaica High School has outraged some officials and community members who said the plan is essentially a move to close the school mandated to remain open by the court earlier this month.

The Hillside Arts & Letters Academy and the HS for Community Leadership are now slated to move into Jamaica HS next fall, bringing the total number of schools operating inside the high school building to four. Both Jamaica and Queens Collegiate high schools will remain in the building next year.

As part of the agreement reached July 14, the Rockaway HS for Environmental Sustainability will move into Beach Channel HS in Rockaway Park.

The decision between the UFT and the DOE follows a state appellate court’s decision earlier this month that saved Jamaica HS, Beach Channel HS, and the Business, Computer Applications & Entrepreneurship Magnet HS in Cambria Heights from closure and upheld the March 26 ruling by a State Supreme Court judge that the city’s plan to shut down 19 public schools violated the law by not providing enough information about how the closings would affect communities.

The UFT sued the city DOE after the city in January decided it would stop admitting students to the selected high schools categorized as failing and replace them with smaller campuses.

“We really feel stabbed in the back,” said James Eterno, a social studies teacher and UFT chapter leader at Jamaica HS. “It looks like what the UFT has done is snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.”

Eterno and other Jamaica HS teachers said they are perplexed as to why the UFT would allow the DOE to implement the smaller schools after the organization won the lawsuit against the city.

UFT officials did not return a request for comment.

Under the agreement, the UFT waived its right to sue the city for co-location — moving the smaller schools into existing school buildings — in exchange for the DOE agreeing to make fewer schools share space in now-operating schools. Of the 16 smaller schools originally proposed to move into existing city schools, nine will be co-located in buildings for which they were originally planned — including the two schools at Jamaica and the one school at Beach Channel.

The Cambria Heights Academy, originally set to be located at the Cambria Heights magnet school, is expected to move into open space in southeast Queens’ District 29. Officials did not say exactly where it will be located because the lease has not yet been signed.

“Putting these new schools in here is handwriting on the wall to get rid of us,” Eterno said.

Kevin Forrestal, president of the Hillcrest Estates Civic Association and a Community Board 8 member, berated UFT President Michael Mulgrew for the decision to allow the smaller schools into Jamaica HS. Forrestal, who lives near Jamaica HS, said the move violates the law.

Calling the agreement “reprehensible,” Forrestal wrote in a letter to Mulgrew that it “sends a terrible example to the students and staff.”

“The action pairs the UFT with the DOE as co-collaborators to circumvent the letter and the spirit of community-based decision-making,” Forrestal wrote.

Eterno and other members of Jamaica’s School Leadership Team met just after the UFT and DOE’s agreement July 14, and they said despite the DOE’s efforts to close their school, they will continue to recruit students to join Jamaica’s freshmen class, which currently numbers approximately 40.

Last week, SLT members went to Cunningham Park and City Councilman Leroy Comrie’s (D-St. Albans) barbecue at St. Albans Park to distribute fliers encouraging students and parents to look into Jamaica HS.

“We know we’re an excellent school that’s worth fighting for,” said Nancy Reghay, a speech and language teacher who has been at Jamaica HS since 1999.

Eterno and other school officials noted they could take several hundred freshmen from neighboring schools that are overcrowded, like Francis Lewis and Bayside high schools.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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