One by one, students from Valley Stream North High School stood before the Central High School District Board of Education on March 12 to detail how the school’s facilities hinder their ability to learn.
Some students spoke of restroom stall doors that don’t lock and a lack of gym locker space, which forces them to change in the gym teacher’s office. Others noted that the mathematics hall is unheated. Logan Balsan described leaky ceilings and falling tiles. Simar Thind said the science classrooms don’t have working eyewashes or gas, preventing students from completing many state-required lab assignments. Sasha Smalls said there was “unidentifiable matter” on one of the desks in her science classroom, and she showed the board photographic evidence that human excrement was left on the floor of the third-floor boys’ restroom.
“Everyone at North sees and experiences the poor maintenance firsthand,” Smalls said, adding that the messy facilities affect student morale. The feces, in particular, would only inspire further acts of vandalism, she said.
Exacerbating the issue, parents claimed, is overcrowding at North. They first expressed concern about the problem in 2017, saying that there weren’t enough desks, and students said they were being pushed around in the hallways. But an architect later said the school was at 85 percent of its functional capacity and was not overcrowded.
Despite the architect’s report, calls to end the district’s school choice, or waiver, policy, which allows parents to send their children to the Valley Stream high school of their choice, continued. The school board ultimately decided to keep the policy, instead opting to change its language to ensure that it does not encourage people to switch high schools.
At the March 12 meeting, Sumaiya Ramsaroop said that the school’s custodial staff could not keep up with such a large student body, and asked the board to hire additional workers. “A healthy learning environment is not a luxury, but a necessity,” she said, “and we are desperately asking that this takes a priority on all budget plans.”
The board, however, approved the district’s 2019-20 spending plan at the meeting, and although it has not yet been presented to the public, it does not include funding for additional custodial staff, Superintendent Bill Heidenreich told the Herald.
Balsan, who is the student council treasurer, also suggested that North students form a committee to brainstorm ideas to address health and safety issues. The committee would then report back to the board with its suggestions, he said.
But Heidenreich told the Herald that such a committee would be unnecessary, because the school already has a student government, and the district has been working to rectify some of the problems highlighted by the students.
In 2016, for example, voters approved a $41 million bond, which included funds to repair roofs on all four of the district’s school buildings, and upgrade its science classrooms. Heidenreich reported that although the roof repairs are complete, North has had some issues with bursting steam pipes. The science classrooms are scheduled for renovation this summer, he said.
“We went to the community in 2016, and these projects are now coming to fruition,” he said.
Additionally, Heidenreich said, several of the cleanliness issues could be resolved if students picked up after themselves. “The students who are using the facilities have to put trash in the receptacles,” he said.
Complaints about other issues, he maintained, were unfounded. He dismissed students’ concerns about air and water quality, saying that the district complies with state standards, and questioned why so many parents would want to send their children to North if these conditions existed. “Why do so many people want to waive into the school?” he asked. “Are people are saying they want to go to the dirty, overcrowded school where there’s not enough desks?”
The district’s proposed 2019–20 budget will be presented to the South High School Parent Teacher Student Association on April 1, and to the North and Central PTSAs on April 10.