Parents lambaste rezoning School closings focus of hearing

February 04, 1993|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Staff Writer

Angered by plans to close nine Baltimore schools, including four that cater to handicapped students, about 250 parents turned out last night to protest the first comprehensive school rezoning plan in nearly 20 years.

Last night's hearing at the Poly-Western Senior High School was limited to discussion of school closings. Other aspects of the plan will be discussed tonight at a hearing scheduled at Coldstream Park Elementary.

The rezoning proposal, the first since 1974, has been criticized by detractors, who say that it would lead to bloated middle schools, long bus rides for many students and elimination of popular K-8 programs.

Last night, more than 100 of those present testified against the proposal for nearly five hours.

"You have so much outrage from the parents because they feel they've been left out of the plan altogether," said Morgan Crossney, an activist at Federal Hill Elementary School.

Under the plan, Federal Hill would receive students from Sharp-Leadenhall, one of four special-education schools that would be closed.

The school board, which has said it expects to vote on a final plan in April, has been urged by the City Council to take another year and craft a plan that would go into effect in September 1994.

But school board President Phillip H. Farfel promised parents that it would seek changes based on their comments.

"This is only a proposal. This is not a done deal," he said.

As currently proposed, the rezoning plan would:

* Close four Level V special-education schools: Harbor View School, No. 304; Lois T. Murray, No. 313; Sharp-Leadenhall, No. 314; and Dr. Lillie M. Jackson, No. 315.

* Shut down Pimlico Middle School, which is currently operating at below half its rated capacity.

* Close Carter Godwin Woodson Elementary School, No. 160, in Cherry Hill.

* Shut down Duke Ellington Primary School, No. 117, attended only by students through the first grade; and Luther Craven Mitchell Primary Center, No. 135, which has only pre-kindergarten and kindergarten programs.

* Phase out, over three years, Malcolm X Elementary School, No. 38, which has children through the second grade.

Malcolm X is one of nine city public schools currently being operated by a private Minneapolis company, in a high-profile experiment in school privatization.

Last night, parents from those schools fiercely defended their programs.

In sometimes emotional testimony, parents of special-education students questioned whether the regular schools are fully equipped to deal with handicapped students who may require wheelchairs, walkers or specialized treatment.

James Norris told the board that his 6-year-old grandson had a behavior problem before being enrolled in Sharp-Leadenhall's program, which handles about 90 emotionally handicapped children.

"I was a child with behavior problems myself," he said. "I do not wish for him to end up the same way and go through all the pain and trouble I've gone through in my life."

And parents from Dr. Lillie M. Jackson School, which serves students with physical and mental disabilities, said the school they would be transferred to, Belmont Elementary, is ill-equipped to meet their children's needs.

"They do not need to be thrown into the public schools," said Flossie Hillard, whose 9-year-old grandson attends the Jackson school.

Parents from general education schools with neighborhood or community ties made similar arguments against closings.

"You obviously did not consider the needs of the children," said Margaret Boulware, mother of two children at Malcolm X Elementary. "We trusted you to make the best educational decision for our children, and you are betraying us."

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