Abrams neighbors fear what school closing means

This is a view of the Jack Abrams

This is a view of the Jack Abrams Intermediate School in Huntington Station. (July 20, 2010) (Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas)

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Groups of children tossed balls, pushed each other on swings and climbed on playground equipment Wednesday.

At Jack Abrams Intermediate School. In Huntington Station, a community becoming so notorious that the school board used the area's reputation to take the extraordinary step of closing the school in the neighborhood.

Huntington Station - where there has been a string of shootings, most of it at night and on the weekends - is too dangerous for kids, the board said.

Yet children from a day camp were running and laughing and playing on school grounds during what in September would be prime school hours. At one point, a truck from the Huntington Manor fire department pulled up, connected a hose to a hydrant and sent a welcome spray of water over one playground.

"That's what I'm going to miss," said Beatrice Rodgers, a retiree and decades-long resident who lives in a cooperative apartment near the school, as she listened to children squealing as they sought relief from the sweltering heat. "I love the sound of children playing. I love to sit at my window and watch the children play."

Huntington school board members justified moving Abrams kids to other schools by saying that some district parents - and for the record, I am a resident of the district and have one child still attending its high school - complained about the area around Abrams.

Yet, parent after parent interviewed over two days in the quiet - yes, both afternoons were quiet - neighborhood around the school were adamant about keeping it open. So were other neighbors, who ran the gamut from homeowners to co-op residents. These are some of the people that the Huntington school board refused to hear. School Board President William Dwyer said Tuesday that the policy manual allowed the board the discretion during special meetings to decide what's on the agenda.

So here are some of the people who weren't on the agenda to speak before the vote Monday night to close their school.

Teachers, nurses, construction and postal workers, retirees and building workers.

"My three daughters and my grandkids went to that school," said Josue Roman, who keeps a row of fat tomato plants against one wall of co-ops. "Anything that happens here, they point to the school, but if it's anywhere else, everybody stays quiet."

Many of these residents are angry. And they should be. The school board's decision to remove the youngsters from the midst of the neighborhood and bus them elsewhere will split up friends, and it won't do anything to make the neighborhood safer. Only policing, town code enforcement, and leadership from the Huntington Station community will do that. And many residents of the area say their safety should be a top county police priority. And that has nothing to do with the school.

"They used the actions of a few thugs to shut the school down," said Norman Eato, a resident for more than 25 years." . . . The richer people in the district didn't like sending their kids to our neighborhood and everybody listens to the richer people," he said.

Board members who voted to close the school said the move would help revitalize Huntington Station.

But residents worry that with the school gone, or turned into an alternative high school, their property values will plunge. And that there will be fewer police in a neighborhood where residents need to see more, especially on nights and weekends.

They also fear that the board's de facto pullout from the community will leave theirs and every other child in the district with fewer resources.

"We just passed a budget because we wanted to keep programs, including music and art - now they're saying they don't know about music and art," said resident Evelyn Connor.

"The classes are going to be more crowded, the schools are going to be more crowded and more kids will spending time on buses," she said. "This is not what any parent wants."

"We're working people, but nobody wants to hear that. They take the attitude of not giving a damn about our kids or our neighborhood."

But the residents do.

And the board's refusal to listen to any of them is shameful.

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