Bennett High School may not re-open next year

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – New problems now face hundreds of Buffalo school students and their families. Bennett High School may end up closing completely.

Children who wanted to attend Bennett next school year will now not have that option with the high school slated to be phased out. The plan that has been put forward by the Buffalo School District is to replace Bennett with a new academy that would prepare students for careers in nursing, law enforcement, and computer programming, among other fields.

MORE | Read letters from the State Education Department to the Buffalo School District explaining the rejections of the plans for Bennett and MLK

But the State Education Department has now rejected that plan saying it “does not provide the necessary evidence of comprehensive planning and support.”

The rejection means students hoping to start what was to be the new academy, will not have that opportunity, and that the school may be in jeopardy of closing for good.

Ira Schwartz, the Assistant Commissioner for Accountability with the State Education Department, said, “The phase out of Bennett will begin, which means no new 9th graders will be entering the building next year. They should not be accepting any new students into that building.”

Buffalo School Board member John Licata said, “The timing is very bad for the families of students who were enrolled, and now they are going to have to enroll in another school. Hopefully we could find placement for them in a school that’s a good fit for those students.”

Buffalo School Superintendent Dr. Pamela Brown was not available to be interviewed, but her office said the district will continue to work on plans for the Bennett conversion.

In another development, the district’s plan to turn MLK School 39 into a school linked with the Buffalo Medical Campus also have been found to be deficient, but has not been totally rejected.

The State Education Department says the plans are “lacking in preparation, with no timeline for hiring of a new principal, and no clear plan for students who would have to be transferring out of MLK.”

Students currently at MLK have no idea if they will be going back to their school next school year. Up until now they have been encouraged by the district to apply to four other schools. All four are deemed to be low performing.

The uncertainty has created anxiety among students and parents.

Dockell Mack, a 4th grader at MLK, said, “I feel a little mad because I went to that school since Pre-K.”

Dorothy Gray, the MLK Parent Teacher Association President, said “Why would you even uproot us? What is all the devastation for? You talk about doing good by our children?”

The creation of a Medical Campus School, however, would offer a new crop of students the opportunity to become familiar with jobs associated with Buffalo’s growing medical community on High Street, down the road.

Licata, who has played a major role in developing plans that helped secure a $3.9 million federal grant for the new school plan, said, “We are using our geographic proximity to the medical campus to promote quality careers for children in the Buffalo public schools. The medical campus is going to be employing thousands of people in Buffalo. The district should be the one providing those workers, those careers, those employees.”

From the current MLK site, Licata said, “I can see the crane. I can see the girders going up. It’s an exciting time to be enrolling in the Medical Campus School.”

Licata is confident the State Education Department will approve plans for the school, perhaps in the next few weeks.

Assistant Commissioner Schwartz said, “The door is still opened at MLK. We have not made a decision yet.”

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