The Bronx school where a student fatally stabbed one classmate and seriously wounded another in September is among the 14 schools the New York City education department is seeking to shutter, officials announced Monday.
An 18-year-old student was charged with stabbing the two boys in the middle of a class at the Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation using a switchblade knife — the first time a student was accused of killing another inside a city school in over two decades. Soon after, reports emerged that about disorder and chronic bullying at the school, including one incident that reportedly led one student to attempt to commit suicide.
It’s a remarkably rapid implosion for a school that isn’t among the city’s very worst performers academically and still serves nearly 500 students, unlike many of the small and long-struggling schools facing closure. (Find the full list of proposed changes here.) A chaotic school culture and ineffective leadership in the wake of the stabbing, officials said, in addition to concerns about future enrollment, led to a determination that it could not be saved.
In the wake of the stabbing, just five students applied to attend the high school next year as their first choice, Chancellor Carmen Fariña said Monday.
“When you start looking at things like that, the message is written for you,” she said.
City officials announced they will shutter the Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation along with 13 other schools. Nine of the schools are in the city’s “Renewal” program, a turnaround initiative that aims to flood struggling schools with additional resources. Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation is one of five schools outside of the program that will be closed.
Last school year, just 13 percent of Wildlife Conservation’s middle-school students met the state’s proficiency bar on English tests and 5 percent did on math — compared to 41 percent and 33 percent citywide, respectively. The high school fared better, with 75 percent of students graduating in four years, one percentage point above the city average.
Soon after the fatal stabbing of the 15-year-old student, Matthew McCree, a grim picture emerged of a school in crisis. On surveys, only 55 percent of students said they felt safe in the school’s hallways, bathrooms, locker rooms, or cafeteria.
Abel Cedeno, the student charged with the stabbing, said in interviews and through family spokespeople that other students at the school had taunted him with racial and homophobic slurs. He pleaded not guilty to manslaughter charges in November.
City officials said Monday that they had tried to revamp the school — which serves grades 6 to 12 and shares a building with an elementary school — by adding safety agents, increasing training for staff members, and installing a new principal. However, students sought to leave in droves: As of last Friday, roughly 45 students had transferred out of the school since the stabbing, officials said.
The Urban Assembly, a nonprofit that helps run 21 mainly career-focused schools across the city, is committed to helping students transition into new schools, said its CEO Kristin Kearns Jordan. Network officials will help students transfer to a different Urban Assembly school if they choose, she said.
Kearns Jordan, however, declined to comment on the school’s current safety. That is “really a DOE responsibility,” she said.
“We are obviously saddened by this closure. It’s heartbreaking for students, for families,” said Kearns Jordan. “We are going to do everything we can to support them through the rest of the year.”
Clarification: A previous version of this story said that just five students applied to attend the high school next year. In fact, only five students applied to the school as their first choice.
Christina Veiga contributed reporting.