By Sophia Ricco and Renee Senzatimore
Massapequa parents are up in arms about the decision by Education Commissioner of New York, MaryEllen Elia, which relocated over 500 sixth grade students from Massapequa elementary schools to Berner Middle School on September 6.
This move has changed the grade model in the school district from K-6 in the elementary school and 7-8 at Berner to K-5 and 6-8, a model more commonly found in city schools but not usually on Long Island.
“I think the social and emotional skills [of incoming sixth graders] aren’t developed enough to cope with the challenges presented by a middle school environment,” Timothy Taylor, the current president of the Massapequa School Board said.
The Massapequa School Board debated the move for three years. The decision was approved by the board on February 9th, 2016, but ultimately it was reversed by them on July 13th, 2017. Elia stepped in on August 3, 2017 and issued a stay order, preventing the school board from going through with this reversal.
“The fact that two anti-move candidates won the past two elections should mean something,” Diana Sunday, who has two children in a Massapequa elementary school said. “If the district was going to allow a community vote, it should be done right now and not in January 2018.”
The Massapequa School Board authorized a lawsuit against the commissioner on August 8th to fight the stay order, but New York Supreme Court Judge Denise Hartman upheld Elia’s decision. Many members of the community, such as Marguerite Palladino Karamoshos, a mother of two with one child entering sixth grade at Berner, feel ignored.
“This decision is setting a precedent for districts all over,” Palladino Karamoshos said. “If the tax payers and board members have no say we might as well live under a dictatorship.”
The sudden halt of the District’s plans by the Commissioner, which took place this summer, has troubled many in the community. Taylor said he received hundreds of emails reflecting the opinion that the K-6 model should remain in place. He even received a petition in early July that had over 3,000 signatures.
“We just went by the wishes of the community,” Taylor said. “We were elected by them to be their voice, eyes, and ears.”
Overcrowding of the middle school is one of the main concerns held by parents, Diana Hibbard LoCascio, a mother of two Berner Middle School graduates, said.
“My children are in 9th and 10th grade and just got out of Berner,” she said. “They both had very good experiences, but the building was a bit crowded. Any time there was any activity at the school, parking was a nightmare and everything was crowded for parents.”
Berner does not allow backpacks, only string or tote bags, in the hallway because of overcrowding, Hibbard said. The rule, she added, was implemented even before the move.
Diana Sunday is also concerned that Berner, one of the largest middle school in Nassau County, will not be able to adequately handle the addition of over 500 new students. Massapequa, she believes, would be better served by having two middle schools before integrating a 6-8 model.
“I had previously found Berner to be a place where many children slipped through the cracks and now we have added even more children to the mix,” Karen Mckenna-Young, whose two children attend school in Massapequa, said.
Although this year’s board goals have not yet been filed, Taylor said that he intends to do whatever he can to have next year’s fifth graders go back to their elementary schools.