The closing of Jack Abrams Intermediate School was denounced as "cowardly" and "divisive" at a press conference Tuesday in front of the Huntington Station school.
The July 19 Huntington school board vote, which reversed a decision earlier to keep the school open to sixth-graders, was deemed "irresponsible" and meant to please "the affluent at the expense of the less affluent," Huntington NAACP president Dee Thompson said. She further suggested that the community should consider opening up a charter school in Huntington Station and seek state Education Department oversight of the school board.
The school board voted to close the school and transfer all students to other schools after several crimes in the area, including a 16-year-old girl being shot in the leg near Abrams, provoked the fears of some parents. The board first voted to send fourth- and fifth-graders to other schools in the fall, but after a teenager was wounded in a shooting in the neighborhood, the board decided to move out all students to other schools. The building would be used for administrative and other purposes and possibly an alternative school in the future.
The last vote came after the board called an emergency meeting and voted on the closing without allowing public comment, which raised the concerns of State Sen. Carl Marcellino, who attended the board meeting and Tuesday's press conference.
"There was no mention of what was on the agenda," Marcellino said, "and I was surprised by the vote." He told the crowd that he would "not sit by on the sidelines while a criminal element" damaged the community and said he would be seeking more money for crime prevention for the area. Later, he said, "By their actions, [the board is] saying the building is not safe," and that the board would have to justify the closing to the New York State Education Department.
Asked at the July 19 vote why he hadn't allowed public comment, school board president Bill Dwyer replied, "Because I didn't need that headache." Thompson noted as illogical the idea that the area wasn't safe while a summer camp was being conducted on the school property. Tuesday, Thompson promised, "We'll now be your migraine."
A small but vocal group of parents who support the school's closing interrupted one speaker and carried signs that read, "Don't Use Our Kids to Clean Up Huntington Station" and "No Child Left Behind," with a chalk outline of child's body. Gerard Seitz, one of the protesters, said he went to the press conference to ensure that his voice would be heard. He put it simply, "This school should be closed." He noted seeing a photo of police canvassing the school's parking lot, looking for bullet casings, after the shooting of the teen-aged girl.
State Assemblyman James Conte, who said his family had lived in Huntington Station for 99 years, said, "I refuse to give up," noting that he had taught and coached at Abrams school, "and never once did I feel unsafe in this neighborhood." He added, "Huntington Station residents know this was a wrong decision, and I will not sit by and allow other officials to destroy the community."
"Don't relocate kids," one speaker said. "Relocate crime."
Several other community, religious and political leaders also spoke, including Town Supervisor Frank Petrone, who promised to keep working with the community to provide services and increase safety, and said, "Let's not hold our fists up at each other. Let's hold our hands out and work together."
Suffolk County Legislator Jon Cooper, D-Lloyd Harbor, said that he'd taken no position on the school's closing but said community was paramount, and Tri Community and Youth Agency regional director Debbie Rimler, said the school was at the heart of the community and, should it be abandoned, "small numbers of people will win."