More speak against school plan

Educator says she fears shifting students will crowd classrooms, incite gang activity


Jasmine Groomes wrapped her arm around her mother's shoulder as they asked members of the Baltimore school board yesterday to keep Laurence G. Paquin Middle/High School in its current location.

Jasmine, 14 and seven months pregnant, said she is worried because her school is on the board's list to be relocated. Paquin is a school for pregnant girls and teen mothers.

Under the board's plan, Paquin would be moved out of its building and relocated to the Lake Clifton High School campus. "I don't know what to do," Jasmine told the board. "We need this school."

About 100 people showed up yesterday at Polytechnic Institute to voice concerns about the board's plan to close five school buildings and shift more than 5,300 students to different schools this summer.

Elmer A. Henderson Elementary, Dr. Roland N. Patterson Sr. Academy, Highlandtown Middle, the Southwestern High complex and the building housing Dr. Samuel L. Banks High School complex would close this summer.

Pupils at Elmer Henderson, Roland N. Patterson and Highlandtown would be dispersed to other schools, and the four small high schools in the Southwestern complex, Banks and Academy of Career and College Exploration would move to other buildings. The school closings are prompted by a state threat to withhold construction money unless the city system starts operating more efficiently. The school system has space for 125,000 students but has 85,000 enrolled.

The number of people who attended yesterday's hearing was a fraction of the total 450 people who attended two other public hearings last week.

Eight of the nine city school board members were at yesterday's hearing. Two attended the first hearing Monday night and five attended Wednesday's meeting. Board members George VanHook and Douglas Kington attended all three hearings. They were joined yesterday by board Chairman Brian D. Morris and members James Campbell, Michael Parker, Diane Bell, Anirban Basu and Jerrelle Francois.

Participants said they are worried about the social impact of shifting students.

Esther Oliver, principal of Dr. Roland N. Patterson Sr. Academy, said she is concerned about classroom size and gang activity. "We all know Baltimore is a community of neighborhoods, and they don't mix well," she said.

Karen Cosby, whose son is an eighth-grader at the academy, said the plan doesn't supply adequate short-term accommodations for the displaced children.

"It's a travesty, and it's a crime against our own children," she said. "What do our children get out of the change? What are the benefits?

"There aren't any," Cosby said.

Gloryann Walker, 14, pleaded with board members not to close Robert Poole Middle School. She said her school has an excellent principal and teachers.

Under the board's plan, the Academy of Career and College Exploration would close in the summer and move into the Robert Poole Middle School building. Robert Poole Middle School would then be phased out and would cease to exist by 2008.

"If you all close our school, you all are out of your minds," Gloryann told school board members.

Nancy Syntax placed part of the blame for the public's anger on state officials.

"The state's holding the board hostage, and the kids are paying the price," she said. "Has anybody thought this through?"

The board is scheduled to vote on the proposed changes March 28.

Sun reporter Sara Neufeld contributed to this article.

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