A crowd of at least 100 parents, community leaders and elected officials gathered Tuesday for a rally organized by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to denounce last week's decision to close the Jack Abrams School in Huntington Station.
The Huntington branch of the NAACP scheduled the rally in response to a school board decision last week to move Abrams students to other district schools. The vote came at the urging of some parents concerned about violent crime in the area.
"We are outraged by the treatment given to the Huntington Station community," Delores Thompson, president of the chapter, told those gathered outside the school. "The decision was cowardly and will not be accepted."
Most at the rally opposed the school's closing, though some said it was needed to ensure safety. Elected officials called for greater efforts to improve conditions in the community.
Thompson chastised board president Bill Dwyer for his vote and asked why, if the area is considered unsafe for students, the district is allowing the town to operate a summer camp on the campus.
Dwyer, reached by telephone after the rally, said, "A summer school camp is very different from trying to educate your kids for a 180-day school year, where they have to pass state tests and things like that."
Dwyer, who cast the deciding vote to close the school, said he stands by his vote, but added that he has never stated he deems the school unsafe for children.
He said the closing is necessary because a "crisis of conscience" surrounding the school, including the beefed-up police presence, makes it difficult to administer an effective educational program.
He said he will continue to work with the county and town to improve conditions in the neighborhood so that students can eventually return.
Some of those at the rally held signs, most of which supported keeping the school open.
At one point, a speaker in favor of immediately reopening the school was interrupted by a shout in opposition.
The rally was attended by Marcellino, Rep. James Conte (R-Huntington Station), Legis. Jon Cooper (D-Lloyd Harbor), Town Supervisor Frank Petrone and town board members Susan Berland and Glenda Jackson.
The Guardian Angels were set to attend but had a scheduling conflict, according to event organizer Alyssa Nightingale of Nightingale and Nightingale public relations.Thompson said she is among residents taking issue with the board's vote because the meeting did not include a public comment section.
But Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, said the board's action was legal.
"The Open Meetings law gives the public the right to attend, to listen to observe," Freeman said. "It says nothing at all about the public's ability or right to speak or otherwise participate during a meeting."