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In Brooklyn, a school to close without graduating any students

Since Joel Klein became chancellor in 2002, the Department of Education has closed 32 high schools. But its latest school closure is unlike any that have come before.

When all the other high schools closed, they did so in stages, so that students already enrolled could stay put until they graduated, rather than have to start at a new school in the middle of their four years. But when the Agnes Humphrey School for Leadership, a progressive school that is the only high school in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, closes its doors at the end of this year, it will be for good. And it will do so without ever having graduated a single student.

The unprecedented move is upsetting some parents and teachers, who worry that students will drop out rather than finding a new high school. City officials said they plan to talk to the students about their options, but four days after the school closure was announced, that hasn’t happened.

“The majority of the kids are saying, if this is going to happen, they’re not going to continue going to school,” Vickie LaSalle, whose daughter is a junior, said today. “Some of them are saying they’re going to get their GED. Some are saying they’re going to drop out.”

That’s what another mother predicted on Tuesday morning, just after the school’s closure was announced. She said she thought many of the students would drop out rather than commute to schools outside of Red Hook, a neighborhood that doesn’t have a subway station

The high school branch of Agnes Humphrey opened in 2006, adding onto an elementary and middle school that had already been open. The elementary school is also closing this spring, and the middle school will be phased out.

Advocates said that the department’s decision could hurt Agnes Humphrey parents and students.

“It’s a problem for the families,” said Andrea Feduzi, the acting executive director of Directions for Our Youth, which last year held a citywide dropout summit. “It’s a pity that these decisions are made without taking into account the best interests of the families and the community.”

A DOE spokeswoman, Melody Meyer, told me that closing the school is in fact in the community’s best interest, because it wasn’t moving its students toward graduation at an acceptable pace.

Just about 40 percent of ninth-graders last year earned 10 or more credits, the number considered necessary for students to be on pace to graduation, according to the school’s 2007-2008 progress report; just over 50 percent of tenth-graders earned that many credits. Because the high school has not yet generated a graduation rate, it did not receive a letter grade on its progress report. Students did outperform their peers at schools the DOE considers similar to Agnes Humphrey on math and science Regents exams, the report indicates.

School officials rarely allow students to transfer into a new high school during the middle of their four years. But Agnes Humphrey students will be encouraged to transfer, and an official at the DOE’s enrollment office will help each of the high school’s approximately 80 students find a new school, Meyer said.

“Not a lot of schools grant transfers, but this is not a lot of students, and this is a unique situation,” Meyer said.

So far, students haven’t learned when this process will begin, or how they will be assigned to schools for next year, LaSalle said.

For now, members of the school community must carry on with high school while dealing with the disruptive news they received this week.

“The students feel as though they have been trying so hard, and now they are just going to be sent away, without even getting the chance to try to graduate from a school that some of them have been in for almost 10 years,” a teacher wrote in an e-mail to GothamSchools on Tuesday.

LaSalle said that since receiving the news about her school on Monday night, her daughter has been stressed out and distracted from her schoolwork.

“Instead of thinking about a college she’s got to think about a high school,” LaSalle said.