By Sarah Beckford, Noor Lone, Irini Orihuela
About 90 parents and students gathered last Thursday in the W.J. Brosnan building to voice their concerns about Northport Middle School closing.
The school closed in late January, just before Martin Luther King day, due to reports by parents, of smells that were causing health-related problems for some students and staff. In some cases, the reports included cases of chronic headaches and some instances of severe asthma. The New York Department of Health is still investigating the concerns about the amount of benzene, mercury and the carcinogenic toxin trichloroethylene (TCE) around the school.
Seventh grade students from Northport Middle School went to East Northport Middle School. Six grade students were divided and relocated to two elementary schools, Bellerose Avenue Elementary School and Norwood Avenue Elementary. In total 600 students were moved across three schools.
“I told my mom I wanted to speak at the next meeting, and she was afraid that I was going to get made fun of or attacked on social media,” Carlee Ferrara, an eighth grader from Northport Middle School said.”I told her I didn’t care about that.”
“It is awful. My eighth grade year has been ruined,” Ferrara said. “We are escorted to other parts of the building. It is embarrassing. The high schoolers don’t want us there, and I don’t blame them.”
Ferrara, 13, relocated to the high school, and was one of the students who spoke up to the school board at the meeting.
Ferrara raised points that other middle schoolers shared before her. They said they all felt welcomed by the other student bodies, yet very out of place. The students are confined to one part of the building, and can’t see friends who relocated to other schools.
“Parents are mad because now they have to take their kids to the East Northport school, which is farther from them,” Jeff Cannon, an East Northport resident said.
“I do not think that the reasons for leaving the old school are as significant or important as transitioning to a new school,” Lawrence Palinkas, a social policy and health professor at the University of Southern California said.
“School transitions are always difficult but they are made much less so when everyone is moving at the same time and for the same reasons,” Elias said, “The issues relate more to how the new building relates to the old one and how routines have to be adapted. After a couple of weeks, once new routines and procedures are in place, old patterns likely will emerge in the new setting,” said Maurice J. Elias, psychology professor at Rutgers University.
But two weeks after the transition, students and parents were still complaining to the Northport-East Northport Board of Education members.
Both students and parents were allotted time to express their thoughts, concerns, and suggestions about the school closing and student relocation during the meeting last Thursday. The students who spoke pleaded to have their school back, and described the effect that relocation had on their mood and academics.
During the second commentary section of the meeting, plenty of parents got up to voice their concerns about their children’s experiences. The parents who voiced their opinions the most were concerned about how moving schools affected their childrens’ day-to-day lives.
“She said that the kids are depressed, the teachers are stressed because they have to run them between different buildings all day. Some of the students had teacher changes, it was midterm week when they decided to make all these changes,” Laura Petronella, whose daughter is an 8th grade student at Northport Middle School, said. Petronella felt that the district’s superintendent, Robert Banzer, was ‘backed into a corner’ when it came to closing the school. And she didn’t feel she was well informed throughout the process. She does not believe the school had any chemical issues, but the sudden relocation has affected her child and caused her to worry about other children as well.
“I feel that it should be thoroughly inspected by the state, not by somebody that has to do with the school district,” Scott Triolo, a father whose child was relocated to East Northport Middle School said. “They should test all the schools and if it comes up bad, they should be shut down permanently.”
“My daughter went to school there, and would complain of headaches,” Andrea Tempio, mom of two, said. “I thought it was just stress. My son is homeschooled, for other reasons, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise.”
“The practices that went on in our school were happening in pretty much all districts at the time, because what we were doing wasn’t any different,” Christine Bandrowski, President of the Northport-East Northport Teacher Aide Association, said. “People didn’t have the same knowledge as they do now. I think all schools should start looking at their past practices, and start trying to clean up their situations before it becomes a political factor.”
The Northport School district is currently declining all interview requests. It is also not authorizing the public to take pictures of the school or be on the school’s property. Deirdre Gilligan of Syntax, a communications and PR group, said via email: “The district is currently not conducting any media interviews. I encourage you to review all community messaging that is posted on the district’s website if you haven’t done so already.”
The school is also being tested for cancer clusters, according to Senator James Gaughran’s office. The Senator who represents Northport and other towns in the New York State Senate, has been trying to provide aid.
“The Senator [James Gaughran] is seeking emergency funding from the state,” Marissa Espinoza, who handles media inquiries for the Senator’s office, said. “He will try to work it into the budget that’s due April 1st, 2020.”