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Parents Protest Plan for School Closures
In Revising List, Chancellor Cites Academic Achievement, Facility Design Issues

By V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 28, 2008

Angry parents from two D.C. elementary schools and two middle schools sounded off last night to Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee about why she should not close their underenrolled buildings.

More than a month after concluding her first round of public assemblies on a proposal to close 23 schools, Rhee held a hearing last night on her revised list, which substitutes four buildings.

The newly added schools are Benning Elementary, 100 41st St. NE; Park View Elementary, 3560 Warder St. NW; Garnet-Patterson Middle School, 2001 10th St. NW; and Merritt Middle School, 5002 Hayes St. NE.

Benning and Merritt would close in the fall. Garnet-Patterson would close in 2011 after a new Shaw Middle School building is opened. Park View would close the same year after a new Bruce-Monroe Elementary School building is opened.

"I feel it's ridiculous for everybody to preach about education, and they want to take away education," said Benning parent Sharon Metts, who was among almost 100 people who gathered last night at McKinley Technology High School in Northeast.

"We need to figure out another way to solve this problem other than closing the schools," she said. "Uprooting these kids is like taking a seed out of the ground that's already been planted."

Rhee, who said the event was a listening session and made no presentation, has said the system has millions of square feet of excess space because of years of declining enrollment. Park View has a capacity of 460 students, but 160 are enrolled. Rhee has estimated that the closures would save $23 million, which she said would be used to improve academics and boost staffing at the remaining schools.

Closing the 23 schools would result in the relocation of about 5,300 students, a little more than 10 percent of the system's enrollment.

Rhee has said the revised proposal is the result of hours of public comments made at nine meetings and 23 public hearings since November. During those sessions, parents and teachers commended the administration for seeking to cut excess space but criticized it for overlooking some successful academic programs.

In an interview, Rhee described why some schools were added to the closure list and others taken off.

Rhee removed Bruce-Monroe Elementary in Northwest, substituting nearby Park View. She said she wants to keep Bruce-Monroe open because it achieved academic targets under the federal No Child Left Behind law. "Academic achievement takes precedence," she said.

She proposes to close Merritt Middle School but keep the nearby Ronald H. Brown Middle School open. She wants to close Merritt because it is an "open-space" school without walls between classrooms -- a design, she said, that is not conducive to learning.

Citing the same issue, Rhee opted to close Benning Elementary. She wants to keep the nearby Smothers Elementary open.

She decided to keep Shaw Middle School in Northwest open but close Garnet-Patterson. She said she wants students to have access to the ballfields at Shaw until a new building is constructed on the site in three years.

Colin B. Touhey, executive director of the D.C. Urban Debate League, cited the championship debate team at Garnet-Patterson as a reason to keep the school open.

"I'm very concerned the closure of Garnet-Patterson will kill the program," Touhey said. "Things like debate need to be considered when deciding whether a school should be closed."

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