Photo courtesy of Save UNIS Queens / @saveunisqueens

Parents and students from the UN International School (UNIS) Queens campus were recently informed that their beloved school, which will soon be celebrating its 75th anniversary, will be closing its doors.

On the morning of Nov. 1, parents of students who attend the UNIS received an email notifying them that the school would be closing its doors on June 22, 2022. The message cited falling enrollment, financial losses and demographic changes as reasoning. The families, who were told the decision had been made without their input, felt as though the Manhattan leadership couldn’t care less about their demands.

UNIS is a highly rated private school with tough admissions and academic standards. It has both Queens and Manhattan locations, established in 1947 by families who worked for the United Nations. The Queens campus is a K-8 school with only one class per grade level. The curriculum emphasizes languages and the arts. Those who are upset by the news feel that the entire premise of the UN — a place where the world’s nations can come together to discuss common problems — does not at all align with the decision to close the school without warning

Carol Maraj is a parent of two students who attend the UNIS Queens campus, who along with most of the other UNIS Queens parents, believes the reasoning of the UNIS Board of Trustees is giving them is inadequate.

“They have a couple of reasons with no substance or no facts behind it and any of the facts that we’ve asked for, they say are confidential,” Maraj said. “The first thing they say is enrollment is down, and yeah, it’s surely down, and you can look at every private school pretty much across the country, and enrollment is down because [we are] in a pandemic.”

In addition to enrollment being down due to the pandemic, Maraj says people must remember there were numerous foreign students and families who have been stuck in their home countries due to Covid-19.

“This is a U.N. school. So a lot of U.N. families haven’t been able to travel to the U.S. until two weeks ago,” shej said. “So there’s a lot of reasons enrollment would be down, including the fact that there was virtually no outreach strategy implemented by the board or the staff at UNIS.” 

Although UNIS leadership claims to have “worked diligently to reverse the downward enrollment trend in Queens” parents say the school’s efforts were not developed by marketing professionals, were under-resourced and un-strategic. 

Another reason UNIS leadership gave parents was due to financial changes, but Maraj doesn’t believe that is accurate.

“There’s no financial hardship that’s underway for UNIS at all,” she said. “I wouldn’t say that compared to other private schools they have a ton of money, but they’re very sound financially.”

Parents point to UNIS’ available tax filings for the past 10 years which demonstrate the following:

  • Net income has increased at an annual rate that exceeds the purported UNIS Queens deficit of $1.8 million a year. 
  • Net assets were $59.5 million in fiscal year 2020 and have increased an average of $2 million per year since 2016. 
  • The projected $1.8 million deficit for the Queens campus was shared for the first time on Nov. 1, 2021, without any substantiation or corresponding data for the Manhattan campus. 

They also state that the school was eligible for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), the federal financial assistance program designed to help businesses and organizations survive the Covid-19 crisis. The school was eligible to receive $8 million dollars, but only applied for $1.1 million. The $6.9 million UNIS leadership did not apply for would cover its projected annual deficit for UNIS Queens for almost four years; they did not apply for round two of the PPP.

Lastly, Maraj explains that closing the school due to changing demographics doesn’t make sense.

“If anything, people have been fleeing Manhattan, we’ve all seen the data. So the boroughs, the suburbs are where people are going and our school draws from Queens, from Long Island and from Brooklyn. So in terms of shifting demographics, that’s actually in our favor,” Maraj said. 

While parents are doing their best to keep the school open, the school’s decision is affecting the students who love their school. Zane Firestone is currently in seventh grade, and desperately wants his school remain open.

“I was honestly shocked and I didn’t think it was real at the moment. I really don’t want it to shut down,” he said. “I love my friends at UNIS. We’re basically family there, so I would definitely miss my friends and all of the teachers.”

Closing down UNIS Queens would mean kids like Zane would miss out on the traditions he spent his elementary and middle school years looking forward to.

“I really want to pass down the pendant, [we] pass it to [someone in] the grade below with wisdom on it, and I really want to pass it down to this one person,” he said. 

Each year students in the graduating class at the UNIS campus get to pass down a pendant with a note of wisdom to a seventh grader of their choice. If UNIS closes down, many students like Zane will not be able to live out their last year at UNIS the way they’ve always pictured it. The students are not the only ones that would grieve the loss of their school, the teachers at UNIS Queens now face an uncertain future as they will not only lose their students but are at risk of losing their jobs next year.

A teacher at the school, who chose to remain anonymous due to the fear of losing her current teaching position at the school, tells us the decision has been difficult.

“There’s a lot of stress. There’s a lot of worry. And no one wants anyone to lose a job,” she said. “We’re incredibly concerned for the students. It’s going to be an adjustment for them going to new schools, and it’s hard to reconcile the ideals that we hold as a school with the closure.”

What can you do?

The future of the school still remains uncertain, but parents are doing everything they can to keep it open. If you want to learn more about the fight to save UNIS visit their website linked here

By going to the get involved tab, you can see the four things you can do to help save the Queens school: writing to the secretary general, calling elected officials, signing the petition and following the Save UNIS group on Twitter and Instagram

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