Someone once said to receive gifts is to lose freedom.
In the case of the , the decision to close Jack Abrams School, passed down by a previous administration, is a gift that continues to prove the quote somewhat true to form.
Lost with the controversial action of more than a year ago to shut down the school is the use of for regular classes this year and the freedom of the current school board to do anything other than make the best of it until a vote to reverse the decision comes to fruition.
In the meantime, the aftereffects of the ruling are causing trustees to push the boundaries of the 4-3 decision, creating a grey area of debate between otherwise agreeable BOE members.
At a meeting Monday at the school, a simple facilities use request by the Helping Hand Rescue Mission for a Dec. 17 Christmas party touched off a round of debate among a majority of current members who mostly concur that the school should never have been closed in the first place.
It began when newly-elected board Trustee Adam Spector asked that the Helping Hands item be separated for discussion before a vote and tabled to allow alternative party locations to be considered which are consistent with the board's policy on where children should and should not be.
"I believe that those children, who are children in our school district, have every right to be in this building," said Spector. "But as a board member who is having his first opportunity to vote on the usage of this building ... I know that we have other eligible locations that I know would be extremely supportive."
, and auditoriums were named by as possible alternates for the Helping Hands event.
Spector said he could not vote in favor of allowing hundreds of disadvantaged families to come into an "environment that I have been told as an incoming board member is not acceptable for our children." He said the Helping Hands Mission has always had, and will continue to get his support — but approving the use of Jack Abrams would send the wrong message.
"It's not safe for all the children in our community to come here, but it is safe for that disadvantaged portion of our community to come here?" asked Spector, concerned about the welfare of what he estimated to be 400-500 expected guests at this year's Helping Hands holiday party.
When Abrams was closed last year, the school board recommended the building be used solely for administrative purposes, tutoring and adult education and possibly an alternative high school for the Huntington School District a few years down the road — but that has since changed.
Since the narrow vote to close the school in July of 2010, Abrams has been approved for use by several school-related organizations including wrestlers, fencers, Project Play, basketball and dual-language groups.
"It is not dangerous to send a child into this building, and I have always felt that from my heart," said school board Trustee Kimberly Brown — staunchly opposed to denying use of the building to the Helping Hands group, but not to others.
Sporting a new hairdo in recent days but keeping the same hard-line stance against the closure of the school as in months past, Brown remains peeved by last year's Abrams decision.
"We should never have closed the school and I am completely opposed to this — and it still sickens me," said Brown, who along with current School Board President Emily Rogan have fought to keep the school open.
At Monday's meeting, the pair remained united.
Rogan said voting against school usage by the Helping Hands group would run a risk of kids not having a Christmas Party. "I would not feel comfortable with that personally," Rogan said.
"To take a stand on them now would not be right," said Brown. "If you want to take a stand ... we should say no to everyone. That's why I think this school should open in September, but that's just my opinion."
School Superintendent Jim Polansky said the item was put on the agenda because it was an outside group requesting use of the facility and the board wanted to look at it in a manner consistent with decisions regarding other groups that use the school.
Motions against tabling the agenda item and for the approval of the Helping Hands Christmas party were approved 4-2 — with BOE members Spector and John Paci III voting against.
Interestingly, Paci voted to close Jack Abrams last year, as did Elizabeth Black, who was absent from Monday's meeting.
Less than one week after a , the Huntington school board voted to scrap a plan to move sixth-graders to this fall. Then school board President Bill Dwyer was joined by Paci, Black and Richard McGrath in voting to close Abrams.
Trustees Brown, Rogan and former Trustee Christine Bene opposed.
New board Trustee Jen Hebert and Trustee McGrath were silent on the Helping Hands issue Monday, other than raising their hands to vote in favor of allowing Jack Abrams facilities use for the Christmas party.