Parents peeved by new limits on Van Buren HS gym use

Danielle Smith from Rosedale protests outside Van Buren Monday evening. Photo by Christina Santucci
By Zach Braziller/NY Post

A Queens high-school principal’s decision to limit after-school use of the gym has parents and kids livid — and it sparked a second protest yesterday outside the building.

Holding homemade signs that read “Where does the money go?” and “Are we ready for college? We have no opportunities,” 20 students rallied outside Martin Van Buren HS to protest principal Marilyn Shevell’s rule that the gym could be used for practice and home games only on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Home games scheduled for Tuesdays and Thursdays conflict with night school, which ends next month, Department of Education spokeswoman Marge Feinberg told The Post.

Anger over the limits only worsened last night when Shevell failed to show up for a PTA meeting. Saying she felt “disrespected,” parent Dianne Payne considered it a “slap in the face.” In the previous PTA meeting, Shevell walked out after parents voiced their concerns.

“It’s unacceptable,” Payne said. “I found it very insulting. I’ve been a PTA president before and I don’t remember ever having a PTA meeting when if the principal wasn’t there, she didn’t at least express regrets and have a designated spokesperson. … She’s not taking into considering the feeling of parents or students.”

During the meeting, co-athletic directors Richard Dellacone and Sheri Meyers handed out a sheet of guidelines, obtained by The Post, for home games that said each player was allowed to have two parents or guardians attend the games, but studnets wouldn’t be allowed to attend. The athletic directors also reiterated games would be held only Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The girls team is scheduled to host Thomas Edison in its season opener next Tuesday.

Cheval Howell, a senior on the boys soccer team who attended the night school classes in the gym last year, said basketball games wouldn’t interfere because night school gym classes are held in the smaller gyms while the large gym remains empty.

“You could have the games,” he said. “Night school doesn’t affect basketball.”

Many students and parents found it to be an ironic coincidence that the days Shevell allows home games there are very few scheduled. Last year, the girls basketball teams played one game at home and the boys three before an alleged broken gym divider forced the teams to the road.

Parents say Shevell has used various “excuses” for the cutbacks — including the broken gym divider, asbestos in the gym ceiling and fights at prior games. But when questioned by The Post, city Department of Education officials said the wall had been fixed a month ago, there is no asbestos problem, and there have been no melees — or even any home games — this year.

Now there is a scheduling conflict. The girls and boys basketball teams have most of their games on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“It’s by design,” Payne said. “We used to have basketball and night school at the same time.”

The gym restrictions have put a crimp on both teams’ hopes for the coming season. The teams, which have enjoyed varying degrees of success in recent years, have practiced less and are unsure where – or if – they will play their home games with the season rapidly approaching. The boys reached the second round of the PSAL Class A playoffs last winter while the girls failed to reach the postseason for the first time in 15 years.

“It feels terrible,” boys basketball center Chuck Junior said. “No home pride, no practice. … We’re not prepared physically.”

Several students went as far as to say they would rather see Shevell work elsewhere.

“It’s like she doesn’t care about us,” said girls basketball junior guard Karina Wong, who wrote a letter to Senator Frank Padavan explaining the situation in August.

The players, however, haven’t given up their fight.

“I still think we have a chance to play home games because parents are sticking up for us,” boys basketball senior guard Chiedozie Udezeh said.

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