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Jamaica HS opens its doors

During the last school year, students, teachers, parents and other supporters rallied, fought and lobbied to keep Jamaica High School’s doors open for a new class of freshman.

As that batch of young learners headed to their classrooms at the historically significant building this week, school members said their victory is bittersweet because the city has diminished the presence of the school within its own walls.

Some 120 ninth-graders were expected to start classes at Jamaica High, at 167-01 Gothic Drive, Wednesday, according to James Eterno, a social studies teacher at Jamaica High School and the school’s chapter leader for the United Federation of Teachers. The incoming student body was low for this year not only because of the confusing application process that took place in the spring but also because the city placed two new schools in the building and had fewer seats to offer, Eterno said.

“There is no room to run a Jamaica High School,” he said.

The Hillside Arts & Letters Academy and the High School for Community Leadership are in the east wing of the building while the Queens Collegiate High School remains in the west wing of the building, which was designated a city landmark last year. The remaining space belongs to Jamaica High’s student body.

“Obviously with the new schools we are being squeezed into the building,” Eterno said.

Representatives from the city Department of Education did not return phone calls for comment as of press time Tuesday.

Eterno said he went to see the classrooms for the two other schools and they had more resources than the ones for Jamaica High, including white boards. In addition, the UFT representative said 25 Jamaica High teachers were reassigned out of the school.

“There is a tremendous amount of demoralization among the teachers,” he said.

The school’s opening alongside the new campuses marks another chapter in the nearly yearlong struggle waged by Jamaica High’s supporters and the city. Last year, the DOE named Jamaica High as one of 19 public schools that would be closed and phased out for smaller institutions because of its large number of failing students.

Other Queens schools slated for closure were Beach Channel High School and the Business, Computer Applications & Entrepreneurship Magnet High School at Campus Magnet Complex in Cambria Heights. Beach Channel High will also be sharing space with another campus this fall.

Despite months of protests from students, alumni and elected officials, the city approved the proposal in January. The UFT filed a lawsuit against the city to stop the closings and both the state and appellate courts reversed the decision in the spring.

The sudden change in plans posed problems for students who were had been planning to apply to these schools. Initially, the teens were not allowed to apply to the schools that were slated for closing, but after the judge’s ruling they were allowed to reapply.

Before the appellate courts upheld the reversal, the students were given a notice from the city that stipulated that the schools could be closed if the courts favored the DOE’s ruling, and this confused applicants, according to Eterno.

In July, the UFT and the DOE came to an agreement to open the new campuses inside the school buildings. Under the terms of the agreement, the UFT waived its right to sue over the co-locations and in exchange the DOE agreed to place a smaller number of institutions within the school buildings.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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