The middle school wars in Massapequa took a holiday for Labor Day.
After a bitter summer of arguing, parents divided over where best to house sixth-graders gathered Monday morning — two days before the start of a new school year — in hopes of healing fresh wounds.
Parents and children pushed cups into the fence at Fairfield Elementary School, using symbols — a peace sign, heart and capital M — to represent the message “Peace, Love, Massapequa.”
The dispute over moving sixth-graders from elementary school to Berner Middle School, upending decades of tradition, threw the district into disarray over the summer. The final decision was reached less than a month ago: The district’s 550 sixth-graders will go to the middle school this year.
“It’s time to move past it, and it’s time to reunite and rebuild the community and our reputation,” said Ilisa Polansky, an opponent of the move and parent of a first- and third-grader, and corresponding secretary with the Fairfield PTA, which sponsored the event. “Regardless of what side you’re on, what has happened has happened, and there’s nothing we can do to change it for this year. The only thing we can change is how we treat each other.”
Massapequa’s Board of Education first approved the relocation in February 2016. But after a new school board took control in June, the board voted to undo the shift. The state education commissioner in August, responding to a petition from parents, barred the cancellation from taking place until her office completed a review of the matter.
The district sued, but acting Supreme Court Justice Denise Hartman in Albany County declined to immediately reverse the commissioner’s stay. So, the school board dropped its opposition to the relocation, at least for the 2017-18 school year.
Supporters of the merger, including Massapequa Superintendent Lucille Iconis, contend that sixth-graders would be better off in classes with their older peers and have expanded access to clubs and foreign language courses in the middle school. Opponents, citing research, said the transition to middle school is tough and should be delayed.
Parents agreed on one thing: The tone of the debate had gotten ugly, particularly on social media.
Marissa Altan, a parent of a first- and third-grader who has lived in Massapequa for 10 years, said at the event that some in the community should learn that “you can’t always get what you want and you have to live with some decisions and move on . . . regardless of what the decision was.”
Donna Scheuer, wearing a Class of 2030 T-shirt in support of her son Joseph, 5, who is entering kindergarten, said at the school Monday that the disagreement had become “a little bit of an ego fight toward the end.” Scheuer, a 1988 district alumna, recalled the community’s uncertainty before the district’s two high schools merged in 1987 despite a “huge rivalry.”
“We made it back then,” Scheuer said. Now, she said, parents and teachers are also “going to make this work . . . because our main focus is our children’s best interests.”