200 attend meeting on school closings

Two Board of Education members show for session to hear parents', teachers' concerns


About 200 people turned out last night to air their concerns about planned school closings at a public hearing scheduled by the school board, but only two of the board's nine members showed up for the session at Lake Clifton High School.

Board members were outnumbered by members of the City Council, which held its own meeting an hour earlier than usual so members could attend the hearing. At least five council members were in the audience, including President Sheila Dixon.

"I find it appalling that the school board couldn't come in its full complement to hear the needs of the community," said Aaron Wilkes, who spoke on behalf of the Darley Park Community Association, protesting the proposed relocation of children from Highlandtown Middle School and Elmer A. Henderson Elementary to Harford Heights Primary-Intermediate School.

School board Chairman Brian D. Morris, reached at home during the hearing, said he had planned to attend but that his child care arrangement fell through and he was helping his son prepare for the Maryland School Assessments. He said two other members have the flu and two were out of town, but he did not know the whereabouts of the two others.

"I hope this isn't made into a `the board doesn't care' issue, because you know and I know that is not the truth," he said. "We'll have at least two more of these things, and we'll be there," he said.

The school board is scheduled to vote March 28 on a plan to close five school buildings this summer and reconfigure several others, displacing more than 5,300 children. Last night's hearing, attended by board members George M. VanHook Sr. and Douglas Kington, focused on changes in east-side schools. It was the first of three hearings scheduled for this week.

The other sessions are to be held at 6 p.m. tomorrow at the Southwestern High complex, focusing on west-side schools, and 10 a.m. Saturday at Polytechnic Institute, addressing the entire proposal. Apart from the hearings, the public can submit written comments to the board through March 20.

The school closings are prompted by a state threat to withhold construction money unless the city system starts operating more efficiently. The system has space for 125,000 students, but only 85,000 are enrolled.

The hearing was often heated, with some in the audience yelling that officials don't care about poor black children. People complained that displaced children will have to travel long distances to get to their new schools and that crowding will result from the moves. They also expressed fears that "turf" conflicts would result from mixing students from different neighborhoods.

Rebecca Lindsey spoke on behalf of the PTA at Dr. Samuel L. Banks High School, which would be moved to the campus of Thurgood Marshall middle and high schools. Banks temporarily operated out of the Marshall complex once before and fights among students were common, she said.

Marshall, the site of a shooting last school year, also doesn't have space for everything that Banks students need, she said, adding that many Banks students live in group homes and do not have parents to advocate for them.

JoAnne Faupel, an English teacher at Canton Middle School, cautioned against sending too many pupils there from Highlandtown, saying that there are turf conflicts between children from the two neighborhoods. If Canton is forced to take more than 200 new pupils, she said, "you're dooming us to failure."

Some of the schools operating in buildings scheduled for closure would relocate to other buildings. Other schools would cease to exist when relocating schools take over their buildings. Still others, such as Highlandtown Middle, would close and their pupils would be scattered among several other schools.

Comments may be submitted to the school board at better schools@bcps.k12.md.us.


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