Demonstrators march across Route 25A to rally in front of...

Demonstrators march across Route 25A to rally in front of the Huntington Town Hall. (March 19, 2010) Credit: Newsday / Mahala Gaylord

The Huntington School Board voted Monday night to reverse an April decision to create a sixth-grade center at Jack Abrams School that it hoped would unify the community but instead whipped up passions on both sides of the issue.

The board's 4-3 vote scrapping the plan came during a tense exchange at an emergency session of the seven-member board - and one week after a 16-year-old girl was shot near a parking lot at the school.

After the vote, which was held in a packed auditorium at Jack Abrams School, board president Bill Dwyer - who had been the swing vote in the April decision - said it was a tough call for him to change course, but something that needed to be done.

"We've worked very long, very hard," Dwyer said to reporters after the meeting. "I have put in a lot of time with Town Hall, with the county, and they've given us all kind, nice words. Yet we have a police relief station here and a child gets shot. What more can we do?"

The new configuration will have students in kindergarten through fourth grade attend the district's four primary schools, which include Flower Hill, Washington, Southdown and Jefferson.

Fifth- and sixth-graders will attend the Woodhull Intermediate School.

The Jack Abrams School campus will be used for administration, tutoring, adult education and possibly, eventually, an alternative high school.

There will be no change at Finley Middle School or Huntington High School.

In April, the school board voted to turn Jack Abrams into a districtwide sixth-grade center, starting in September, in an effort to unify the district. The plan called for fourth- and fifth-graders to go to Woodhull.

But the decision angered some parents who wanted to know how the move was addressing the issue of student safety following continued violence in the neighborhood. The school board formed a committee whose aim it was to find a long-range solution to the district's need for more space.

The community became outraged after shots were fired March 11 during school hours.

That prompted district Superintendent John Finello to say violence had compromised safety in the area.

Some parents lobbied the board to move students out of the building, while others said town and county officials should do a better job of ridding Huntington Station of gangs and landlords who are housing-code violators, allowing overcrowded houses and an unsavory element.

After the vote Monday night, reaction on each side of the issue was spirited as residents filed out of the school's auditorium.

Denise Stieve, who has a son entering the sixth grade, said she was relieved by the board's new decision.

"I believe Bill [Dwyer] did it for the right reason in April, but I didn't agree with it so I'm so happy now that a change has been made," she said.

Rebecca Sanin, who organized a rally before the meeting in an effort to keep the sixth-grade center, said she was "sickened" by the reversal.

"Rather than take in the will of the majority of the people in the community, the board responded to a very loud, very afraid, vocal minority," she said. "I feel terrible for the children in this community because the board of education has turned its back on them."

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