Controversial Jamaica High School play will go on

Jamaica High School is on the watch list of schools the city wants to close.
By Ivan Pereira

The fight to save Jamaica High School from closing will be put under the spotlight — literally — this Friday with a special play depicting its fate as a Greek tragedy as more elected officials rally to oppose the city Department of Education’s plans.

Students from the school, along with teens from the Queens Collegiate High School, which shares space at 167-01 Gothic Drive, will be performing an adapted version of the Greek tragedy “Antigone” despite the controversy that nearly canceled the show.

In the school’s version of the play, King Creon is former city Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, and instead of making a decision about which of his two sons gets a proper burial, he decides that Jamaica High gets left to die and to be fed by the birds while Queens Collegiate gets better treatment.

The DOE proposed last month that Jamaica HS was one of several city institutions that would be phased out starting next fall due to its large number of failing students, and the decision rattled students into taking charge and fighting for their future creatively, according to Jamaica HS social studies teacher James Eterno.

“Life is playing out just that way,” the United Federation of Teachers chapter leader said of the play.

The principals of both schools called off the play, deeming it too controversial but reversed their decision after protests from the school’s supporters, according to Eterno.

The teacher said they would do all they can to voice their concerns about the DOE’s plans, which include the phase-out of Beach Channel HS, MS 231 in Laurelton and PS 30 in Jamaica. Last year the city tried to shut down Jamaica, Beach Channel and one of the Campus Magnet high schools, but the move was blocked by a lawsuit filed by the UFT that said the city did not engage with parents properly during the procedures.

Eterno said his school has not been able to get any additional resources to improve programs during this school year, but more money went to The Hillside Arts & Letters Academy and the High School for Community Leadership, the two new campuses that were placed in the Jamaica High building in September.

“Last year it was about us saying we’re a good school. This year it is about the DOE setting us up to fail,” Eterno said.

A spokesman for the DOE said the new schools got more of the funding to help start up and the tighter budget could not afford to allocate the same spending on Jamaica HS.

The student body’s cries have not gone on deaf ears.

Newly elected state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), whose district covers Jamaica HS, took a tour of the school and was shocked at the discrepancy between campuses. He said he was appalled that the city did not put more of an effort into fixing Jamaica High School’s academics instead of bringing in the additional campuses.

“They have access to technology, Smart Boards and computers and the regular Jamaica High School students are treated like second-class citizens,” he said.

The senator has joined other elected officials, including Council members Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills), Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) and Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), in fighting the DOE’s plans, according to Eterno.

“This is separate and unequal,” Comrie said. “They are deliberately shortchanging the quality of education in the facility.”

A public hearing on the phase-out proposal is scheduled at the school Jan 20 at 6 p.m. and Eterno said students will be holding a rally before it starts.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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