Church angry at Baltimore school system City refuses request to lease in junior high

September 24, 1993|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,Staff Writer

A black church in Northeast Baltimore is angry with the city school system for denying permission to house a private school in a building where a Jewish school has operated for five years.

Mount Zion Baptist Church wants to move its 420-student Baptist Christian School to the former Northern Parkway Junior High, owned by the school system.

James Jackson, a teacher and spokesman for the Baptist school, called the denial "appalling" and "racist." He noted that the Jewish school, the Torah Institute of Baltimore, leases space the building and an entire floor remains empty.

"The only thing we're asking for is equal treatment under the law," said Mr. Jackson. "For too long, black children have been denied equal opportunity."

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Superintendent Walter G. Amprey both reacted angrily to the suggestion of racism. They said the school system needs all the space and is asking the Orthodox academy to vacate by the end of this school year.

"This is not a matter of racism, and Reverend Riddix [Pastor Mark Riddix] knows that," Mayor Schmoke said. Dr. Amprey accused the Baptist church, at 2000 E. Belvedere Ave., of trying to "make this a black-Jewish issue, which it is not."

The school system and the mayor's office have pledged to help the church find alternative city-owned buildings for possible lease, but Mount Zion Baptist does not want to settle for an alternative.

In the mid-1980s, the school system declared the former junior high at 2500 E. Northern Parkway a "surplus" building no longer needed for education and turned it over to the city Department of Housing and Community Development.

After failed attempts to sell the building, the city allowed the Torah Institute to lease part of it. But in 1989, the school system needed space for students displaced by renovations at other schools and again took possession of the building.

Montebello Elementary's entire student body shared the old school with the Jewish students during a three-year renovation of Montebello completed this fall. Brehms Lane Elementary students continue to attend classes in the old junior high while awaiting the completion of renovations.

Since putting the building back in service, the school system has spent more than $3 million renovating and repairing it. Besides housing displaced students, the former junior high will serve as a training center for teachers and administrators.

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