A Queens Catholic church abruptly blocked special-needs kids from using its gym in order to get a more lucrative deal with the city Department of Education, according to a new lawsuit.
The School for Language and Communication Development in Woodside claims that St. Mary’s Winfield had leased it the church’s main building — along with an adjoining parking lot and gymnasium — since 2006
But the middle school — which serves autistic and speech-challenged
kids — claims the church “maliciously” locked its students out of the
gym last July after leasing the facility to the DOE.
The church prohibited the school’s use of the gym despite being contractually obligated to do so, the lawsuit claims.
Noting that it used the facility on a “daily basis,” the school
alleged that church officials knew it would “no longer be able to
maintain the appropriate physical education and recreational activities
for the children without use of the gymnasium.”
securing the space, the DOE and the School Construction Authority began
renovating it to suit DOE needs, according to court papers.
Unable to access the gym, SLCD officials demanded that construction
halt and that their kids be allowed to use the facility — “to no avail,”
the court papers state.
“The children’s lack of adequate physical education over the past
several months has dramatically decreased the children’s happiness and
willingness to learn, listen and behave in school,” the suit says.
SLCD administrators are demanding $1 million in damages, immediate
access to the gym and $32,083 in compensation for every month without
“St. Mary’s intentionally and maliciously breached the lease with the
sole goal of making more money via entering into a new agreement with
the DOE for the use of the gymnasium,” the lawsuit charges.
SLCD also named the DOE as a defendant in the case, arguing that it
knew of the existing arrangement and decided to lease the gymnasium
“The SCA and the DOE were aware of the school’s occupancy of the
premises and the use of the gymnasium prior to the beginning of the
unlawful construction,” according to the court paper.
The DOE declined to comment, referring questions to the city Law Department.
A city Law Department spokesman said it will review the complaint.
St. Mary’s officials did not return a call seeking comment.
A lawyer for the School for Language and Communication Development, Helmut Borchert, did not comment.