A day after D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson announced her plan to close 20 schools, parents across the city signaled their intent to protest, labor leaders said they would push to unionize charter schools and charter-school advocates vowed to fight for control of vacated buildings.
The reactions to Henderson’s plan were the first salvos in a battle that will unfold over the next several weeks and ultimately decide the shape of the District’s school system.
Parents in Northwest Washington said they will oppose plans to put some middle and high school students in the same building. The chancellor’s proposal would create two campuses shared by sixth- through 12th-graders.
“Our parents will not put our kids in that environment,” said Lee Granados, a mother of two children at Ross Elementary, which would feed into Cardozo High School.
The chancellor said her plan is meant to shift resources from maintaining under-enrolled schools to focus on improving academic programs. She said she will tweak the details of the plan after hearing community feedback but will hold firm on the number of schools to be shuttered.
“We’ve got to close 20 schools,” she told reporters Tuesday. “If it’s not this school, it’s that school.”
Henderson has offered few specifics about how a grade 6-12 school campus would work, Granados said, testing the patience of parents who want to commit to the school system but see no attractive option. Many parents are already fleeing to charter schools for middle school, she added.
“It’s scary,” Granados said of the chancellor’s plan, “and parents aren’t going to risk their children.”
Across the Anacostia River at Ferebee-Hope Elementary in Southeast, parents planned a Thursday afternoon protest of the chancellor’s proposal to close the under-enrolled school and send its students to Hendley Elementary, a half-mile away.
“Hendley is in a drug-infested area,” said Shannon Smith, whose two grandchildren attend Ferebee-Hope.
“Not only that, they have gunshots out there,” she said.
The D.C. Council is scheduled to receive feedback from more than 100 people during two public hearings on the school closure plan. The first is Thursday and will launch the city into a conversation not just about the particulars of Henderson’s plan, but also about how traditional public schools and public charter schools will coexist.
The Washington Teachers’ Union sees the proposal to close schools as a sign that charter schools — which educate more than 40 percent of the city’s students — must be unionized because they will continue to grow quickly.
“It was commonly conceived by our members that many of these schools might receive pressure to reopen as charters,” said the union’s president, Nathan Saunders. “They wanted to look at options for union membership should that happen.”
Saunders said he has the legal right to organize charter schools but that it is difficult because they are exempt from the law that requires the city to enter into collective bargaining with public employees.