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The Jefferson County Board of Education is set to vote Nov. 10 on whether to carry out the District’s plan of closing 16 elementary schools within the county.
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Over the course of two months, parents have spoken and asked questions of principals and the District at community meetings, and directly to the Board at public comments and hearings. The Board, in that time, has heard from the District about hiring plans for the consolidation, how enrollments will work and predicted enrollment in the future, among other details.
Reasons for closures
The main reason for closures at all, reiterated by the District at community meetings and to the Board, is under-enrollment and the thinning of the budget across not fully utilized schools. As explained by Community Superintendent Donetrus Hill, the goal is “equitable opportunities for all students, teachers and families,” and that fewer schools would allow “fewer, more equitable resource intensive programs.”
Some parents, such as Mollie Crampton in a public comment to the Board, have claimed that the criteria used is not equitable in itself.
“The criteria used for this process benefits schools that do better in our choice system, and a choice system benefits parents with privilege who can afford the time and transportation required to get their kids to a different school,” she said.
She highlighted that a large proportion of the student population at Vivian Elementary, which is slated for closure, is students of color, and their academy-style curriculum “is benefitting all students, and the growth shows that we have a chance of closing achievement gaps, something that the entire state, the entire county is working for.” She sees closing Vivian as taking away an “amazing opportunity…from some of the most vulnerable children in the district.”
As for under-enrollment, 2nd Vice President of the Board of Education Susan Miller said at an Emory Elementary community meeting that the Board has spoken to their GIS team to look at where kids are going instead, and using exit interviews with leaving parents to gather data. She did not elaborate further whether that data collection has finished or what it may have revealed.
What closures would look like
Sixteen elementary schools are slated for possible closure. The criteria the District used to decide those schools included whether enrollment was “less than 220 K-2, K-5, K-6 students,” or the school was using 45 percent or less of its capacity and there was another school less than 3.5 miles away that could absorb those students.
If consolidations mean a student is farther from their school, there will be reconsiderations for transportation for them. Currently, Jeffco’s rules give bus transport if walking distance is more than one mile, and safety considerations such as highways, railroad crossings and roads with speed limits higher than 40 miles per hour would also grant bus transport.
Specific distances and safety considerations for every school can be found in the District’s presentation to the Board.
Students enrolled in a school that is closing, by boundary or choice, are guaranteed a place at the receiving school.
“They basically have the highest priority other than someone already in the school, a sibling of someone in the school, or a staff member that works in the school,” said Lisa Relou, chief strategy and communications officer for the District. Students also will be auto-enrolled in the receiving school if parents do nothing, but enrollment specialists will be available for every family for specific help if needed.
Through community meetings, public comments and public hearings, parents have put forward their concerns about the consolidations. Many concerns have been school specific, such as whether certain programs would be transfered and what safety considerations look like at the absorbing school, but others have been broader and critiquing the process itself.
Lakewood resident Destiny Farr said the criteria used to choose the closing schools “didn’t show the whole picture.”
“We feel that many important things were overlooked in that criteria for the sake of using low enrollment, building utilization and financials issues to make this decision, which essentially puts the financial rolls of the District and the budget on the backs of parents, staff, students and the community — and especially on already marginalized communities: low-income, special needs and families of color,” Farr said.
More specific information about the District’s criteria can be found on its website.
Class sizes were another concern brought up frequently that the District highlighted multiple times were expected to stay within the agreement made with Jefferson County Education Association — which represents educators in the district — at 18 to 24 students for kindergarten to third grade, and 22 to 30 for fourth to sixth grade.
Whether teachers would stay with those students though was less concrete, as Principal of Emory Elementary Lisa Mahannah said in a community meeting, certified and non-probationary teachers would need to re-interview for a position, but they were guaranteed a place in the District.
“The District needs to retain its employees, as much as it needs to retain you,” Mahannah said.
Probationary teachers are not guaranteed a place, like Flor Contreras, a 3rd grade Spanish Dual Language program teacher at Emory. She explained that she became a teacher to be with the kids at Emory, and this was her first school year. Mahannah responded that if a teacher wants to stay with the students, they should, and that she would advocate for that.
Another main concern brought up was a fear that programs such as for special needs children and those with disabilities, or dual-language programs would not successfully transfer after consolidation.
Wheat Ridge Alanna Ritchie resident described the pandemic being “brutal” for her son with disabilities and in the Center Program at Wilmore-Davis Elementary.
“The larger consolidation schools don’t have Center Programs, or the resources these kids need. The support system for these children already exists in the smaller schools that already serve them,” Ritchie said, stressing that it can take years for children with disabilities to trust and feel safe with the staff and structure around them.
The original recommendation list by the District shows Center programs as transferring to receiving schools, listing the specific programs that may be transferring to different schools.
For Emory Elementary at least, the dual-language program will be transferring to its receiving school, Lasley.
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