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Parents And Community Members Ask Austin ISD To Slow Down School Closings Process

Parents and community members attend a public meeting at Ridgetop Elementary
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon
Parents and community members attend a public meeting Monday at Ridgetop Elementary about the school's potential closure under a new district plan.

The Austin Independent School District held its second week of community meetings to discuss its plan to close 12 schools and increase programs districtwide

Parents and community members continued asking the district why specific schools were chosen and to slow down the process. Right now, the school board is expected to vote on the plan at its November meeting.

There was a theme of distrust among many parents this week from all school communities. People questioned if AISD was trying to make money selling land (one district staff member promised the intention is not to see condos built), and why schools that have been working with the district on new programs are being closed. Many said they felt tricked by the 2017 bond. 

“It’s a bait and switch, because in 2017 they told us ‘vote for this,’ and I voted, and we’re gonna make your schools better,” Ruth Tovar, a Brooke Elementary parent, said at the regional meeting Tuesday. “All of a sudden you're closing the schools down now.”

When it came to specific parts of the proposal, district officials did clarify some major questions this week:

Why Mostly East Side Schools?

At a districtwide meeting Saturday at Austin High School, Superintendent Paul Cruz said part of the goal of closing schools is to build modernized structures. That means completely new buildings, he said, with classrooms and spaces that look completely different from any school in AISD.

Cruz said the district picked pairs of schools to consolidate that had mostly kids in poverty, because it wants to give these students the opportunity of going to a brand-new school. 

Why Our School?

Like those from last week's meetings, many parents and community members questioned why their schools were on the list. Parents at Ridgetop Elementary asked why the district would disrupt a successful dual-language program at the school. Members of the Joslin Elementary community were confused they were chosen because they have been working with the district to launch a Mandarin immersion program. 

AISD has said it will release version 1.1 of this plan, though it's not clear when. The district says this version will include a little more detail about how it decided which schools to close, but would not include any major changes.

The East Side Middle School Situation

At a regional meeting at Northeast High School (formerly Reagan), many parents expressed concern that Northeast would expand to include grades sixth through eighth. Parents at the meeting said they didn't want their middle-school-aged girls to be in a high school setting, and asked if students from Bertha Sadler Means Young Women's Leadership Academy – also slated to close – would be assigned to attend Northeast.

The district said no, the middle school program at the high school is optional and nobody would be assigned here. They said students would be assigned to other middle schools, including a new middle school being built in Mueller. 

Attendees at the Bertha Sadler Means meeting Friday expressed the same concern. The district's plan is for those students to attend Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders if they want to continue with a single-gender education, but parents said they are worried about the crosstown commute. 

Other Clarifications To The Plan

The original document published Sept. 5 said that the Digital Arts program at Campbell Elementary would be moved to Blackshear Elementary, even though Campbell was staying open. At a meeting Thursday night, district staff said after hearing from parents they will keep the program at Campbell.

Community Meetings continue through Oct. 10.


Click on the threads below to see live tweets of parent concerns and the district’s response during each meeting: 

Districtwide Meeting At Austin High

Ridgetop Elementary

Regional Meeting at Northeast High School

Regional Meeting at Martin Middle School

Joslin Elementary

Dawson Elementary

Campbell/Maplewood/Blackshear Elementary

Bertha Sadler Means Young Women’s Leadership Academy

Claire McInerny is a former education reporter for KUT.
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