The closings also left school buildings vacant without a clear plan for how they would be reused, and the school system failed to prevent violence when teenagers from different schools were consolidated into one building where neighborhood rivalries festered, city officials have acknowledged.
“The 2008 closure was atrocious,” said D.C. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), one of many to criticize the action during the first public hearing on Henderson’s plan last week. “It was handled poorly from the very beginning.”
Henderson, who was Rhee’s deputy during those closures, has promised to learn from past missteps, and so far she has succeeded, rolling out her closure plan with far fewer fireworks than the last time around.
Rhee was forced to announce her closures when news leaked to the media. The abrupt move blindsided school employees and city officials and spurred backlash from thousands of parents angry about the loss of their neighborhood schools and the manner in which the plan was delivered.
“Chancellor Rhee was very confrontational — pretty much autocratic — so it looked like at that time this was being shoved down the throat of parents,” said Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3).
Henderson, by contrast, has spent months laying the public relations groundwork for closures, speaking often about wanting to redirect resources away from underenrolled schools and toward improving academic programs elsewhere.
“Last time it was very ugly and very abrupt,” said Trayon White, Ward 8 representative to the D.C. State Board of Education. Nobody is happy about this round of closures, he said, but there does seem to be “more sensitivity to the community than there was back then.”
Council members and principals heard about this year’s proposed closures from school officials last week before they read it in the newspaper. And the chancellor repeatedly emphasized her desire to hear from and respond to concerns about the closure plan.
The school system has planned four community meetings to discuss the closures and established a Web site where people can submit comments.
“We recognize that there are a lot of creative ideas and solutions that we have not considered,” Henderson said at last week’s council hearing.
But many parents say that Henderson’s plan still appears likely to engender just as much bitterness and difficulty as Rhee’s.