‘Racial’ war at John Jay HS

‘Racial’ war at John Jay HS
Photo by Tom Callan

More than 100 teachers, students and parents of John Jay HS in Park Slope — which comprises mostly minority students from outside the neighborhood — rallied on Tuesday against a city plan to site an “elite” public high school in the building.

Chanting “Hey, ho, racism has got to go!” protesters argued that bringing in Millennium Brooklyn, a version of a largely white college preparatory high school in Manhattan, is a throwback to 1950s-style segregation — with separate entrances and unequal funding.

“Where was that money when we needed it?” Racquel Stewart, a 17-year-old student at the Secondary School for Law, one of the three high schools inside the once-notorious Seventh Avenue building. “The school system doesn’t care about us. They set us up to fail. It’s racism.”

While she spoke, students passed out fliers demanding that the city remove metal detectors that students feel stigmatize them. Others said that they were scared that the top-performing school would push them out of the building.

A couple dozen teachers showed up to support the students. Dance teacher Danielle Harris waved a bright yellow sign that read: “Stop Millennium from taking our money!”

“These kids already feel defeated and unwelcome in this neighborhood,” she said. “And they can’t help thinking it has something to do with skin color.”

The campus was divided into four smaller schools in 2004 after John Jay HS was deemed a failure. Despite the change, the campus remains an island of color in mostly white Park Slope. Few neighborhood kids attend the school — although it would no-doubt be convenient — because of its lingering reputation as a hub for unmotivated troublemakers.

The campus is no longer plagued by robberies, assaults and weapon possession although it does have a low graduation rate: About 69 percent of kids who attended class at the campus last year graduated.

Millennium would open next fall and share space with three small existing high schools, which include the law program, plus a high school of journalism and another of research. A middle school inside the building would be relocated to make room for it.

Millennium would receive millions of dollars in public “start-up” money, a fact that irks students in the less-than-state-of-the-art building, where teachers complain about asbestos and loud heaters.

“Our classrooms are bad,” said 17-year-old student Joelle Jenkins, who lives in Queens. “There’s mold and they just cover it up.”

The city says the new school would bring in kids from the neighborhood and simply “create high-quality education options for all students.” Some parents believe that Millennium Brooklyn could be a solution to a long-standing neighborhood dilemma — that few local parents send their kids there.

Six percent of kids who attend class in the John Jay building are white; 36 percent are black; 50 percent are Hispanic and seven percent are Asian. More than 80 percent of the students receive free school lunches.

By contrast, 35 percent of students at the Millennium school in Manhattan are white. Most are upper-middle class.

Councilman Brad Lander (D–Park Slope) urged the city to evaluate the Millennium proposal.

“At a deeper level, this calls into question inequality in our school system,” he said.

It may indeed. The per-student expenditures at the Secondary School for Law inside the John Jay HS building is $16,973. The same students at Millennium receive $18,103 in annual public funding. The citywide average is $14,452.