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Saved from closure, a Queens high school faces phase-out

When a judge ruled in favor of keeping open 19 schools that the city had targeted for closure, it appeared that the teachers union had won its case. But for at least one of the schools, under-enrollment could spell closure anyway.

Jamaica High School in Queens is currently looking at an incoming class of 23 ninth grade students, according to minutes taken during a meeting between the school’s principal and union chapter leader. If more students don’t enroll, the high school will not be able to offer a ninth grade next year, which is what would have happened under the city’s original plan to phase out the school.

A portion of the minutes reads:

Mr. Acham said that our expected number of students for the fall would be between 850 and 900 pupils and not close to 1400 that we currently are enrolling. He added that the number of incoming grade nine students who have made a full commitment to Jamaica High School for this fall was only 23 and this number was down from a potential incoming class of merely 60. Therefore, the Principal concluded that we do not have a sufficient number of freshmen to run our programs.

A spokesman for the Department of Education, Danny Kanner, said Jamaica’s enrollment numbers would likely go up, but would not offer an explanation of how this would happen or how many students had been matched with the school’s ninth grade next year.

“We do not yet know the final number of students that will be in the freshman class, but we expect that it will be higher than what is currently in the system,” Kanner said.

Part of the reason for Jamaica’s diminished incoming ninth grade could be the city’s high school admissions process. This year, students who listed any of the then-closing schools as one of their top choices were matched to other schools. But after a judge’s ruling postponed the closures, the students were re-matched and given the choice of attending a school the city had marked as failing, or a different one.

To make its preference clear, the city sent these students’ parents a letter saying that if the city wins its appeal, the 19 schools will begin phasing out next year.

“Basically what the DOE is doing is de facto closing us,” said Jamaica chapter leader James Eterno.

The city plans to open two small high schools in Jamaica’s building next year: the High School for Community Leadership and Hillside Arts and Letters Academy.

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