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Sachem board votes to shutter 2 elementaries and 1 middle school

Sequoya Middle School in Holtsville is among the

Sequoya Middle School in Holtsville is among the schools set to be closed because of declining enrollment in the Sachem district. Credit: Newsday File

Sachem Central School District will shutter Tecumseh and Gatelot elementary schools along with Sequoya Middle School by next fall because of declining enrollment.

The school board voted 6-3 at a packed meeting Wednesday night at Samoset Middle School in Ronkonkoma.

The board will take final action to implement that plan Jan. 6 after a public hearing.

In choosing this option, board members decided against closing the Lynwood and Nokomis elementary campuses as well as Seneca Middle School.

The plan calls for redistricting.

The district is the second-largest on Long Island by enrollment. It currently serves 13,500 students, and more than 2,000 will be affected.

Board president Anthony Falco said the chosen buildings will be shuttered by September 2016.

He said he’s not sure if the plan goes far enough.

“I believe more will have to be done in the future,” he said. “I don’t know if three schools is going to be enough. We are going to have to see what the budget looks like. We may have to do more further down the line.”

As for the redistricting, Falco called it “a little tough” for students and families.

“Some of the kids will be removed from existing buildings to other buildings,” he said. “Right now, there is an imbalance in the elementary schools.”

Some are only half or three-quarters full, he said.

Parents from all over the district expressed myriad concerns: A mother from Gatelot wondered what would happen to the mural and tree planted in her son’s honor after he died from cancer last November.

Another parent asked what would become of the sports teams and clubs of the shuttered middle school.

A longtime resident warned of the perils of closed buildings. A homeowner worried about her property values if local schools are closed.

But in the end, parents and students wanted resolution.

Jan Chmela, a fifth-grade teacher at Gatelot, reminded the board that her campus was the first built in the district.

She said, too, that Gatelot takes great pride in its large special-education population and she worries that those students, many of whom thrive in familiar surroundings, will be displaced.

She asked the board to look beyond enrollment data.

“Our children have been reduced to numbers far too often,” she said.

The district said it considered several factors in choosing the schools: It aimed to keep the K-5 grade structure and minimize transportation costs and the reassignment of children.

It also sought to maintain the elementary to high school feeder structure based on the existing north and east boundary and to craft a plan that would be sustainable through the next five years.

Lana G. Moreno, a third grader at Lynwood, said many of her peers have been talking about school closures.

“This is a scary time for everyone,” she told the school board before the vote. And when the campuses are shuttered, “many people will be sad.”

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