The Massapequa school district, just weeks before the start of the 2017-18 academic year, has reversed long-held plans to have nearly 550 sixth-graders join seventh- and eighth-graders at Berner Middle School in September.
In a 3-2 vote Thursday night, the school board rescinded a resolution passed on Feb. 9, 2016, that was to take the sixth-grade level out of the system’s six elementary schools — a surprising change of course for district officials who first proposed it about three years ago.
Tour dates of the reconfigured middle school for parents and students were set for next month.
“What happened last night is a travesty for our district,” Rose Stein, 37, a mom of three children in district schools who supported the sixth-grade move, said Friday. “It’s really not about the move anymore. They told these kids that they were going in to a new school. They graduated them. Money has been spent, teachers have been hired. The kids are ready to go.”
The plan to add sixth grade to the middle school had been a contentious issue. The proposal set forth by Superintendent Lucille Iconis included a longer school day for the sixth-graders, with more opportunities to participate in science, music, art and foreign language offerings and extracurriculars. It also included the hiring of several new teachers.
It was unclear Friday how much money the school district has spent on reconfiguring Berner Middle School, anticipating the arrival of the sixth-graders.
District spokesman Michael Ganci, asked if the district would have to let go of teaching staff, said in a statement, “The Board of Education approved the hiring of additional staff as part of the reconfiguration. With the board’s decision last evening to rescind the sixth-grade move to Berner, the district is currently reviewing its staffing needs.”
Parents who opposed the plan had cited drawbacks to their children’s social and emotional development and gathered more than 2,000 signatures on a petition. Newly elected board member Brian Butler, during his campaign in May, had vowed to reverse the plan.
“I believe I was elected because of my position of stopping the move [of sixth grade into the middle school] and I did just what the people elected me to do,” Butler said Friday. “The studies all show that when you move sixth grade into a middle-school model that academic performance and emotional and social behaviors drop precipitously.”
Butler, 39, a real estate investor and developer who was sworn into office on July 5, has three children in the district, including a daughter who will begin sixth grade in September. He said on Friday he is “committed to keeping the sixth-graders in the most nurturing environment possible” in the elementary school.
Iconis and school board member Maryanne Fisher, a proponent of Iconis’ plan and the immediate past board president, did not return calls Friday seeking comment.
In February, the superintendent said, “It is about expanding opportunities,” while noting that many of Long Island’s high-achieving districts have middle schools with grades six through eight and saying the effect on taxpayers would be minimal.
In materials posted to the district’s website, the administration has said there would be several implications of rescinding the plan, including impacts to the staff, transportation, food services and technology.
Last month, at the school year’s end, the incoming sixth-grade students were presented graduation certificates upon completing the fifth grade, a signal they were leaving their elementary schools.
As of June 30, the enrollment at Berner Middle School was 1,134; the sixth-grade enrollment across the system’s six elementary schools was 548, Ganci said.
If the plan to merge were to occur — creating a new middle school enrollment of 1,682 students — Berner would be one of the largest middle schools in Nassau County.