Petitions and citizen pleas persuaded the Arlington County school board last week to delay at least one month a decision to close a junior high school.
The board's unanimous agreement to wait until May 5 to make the decision, although not an official move, came after School Supt. Larry Cuban recommended that Stratford Junior High School be closed in September, 1978. The closing decision had been scheduled for tonight.
"I'm persuaded by the number of petition names and comments asking us to give more time to considering a school closing," said baord member Margaret Whipple. "Waiting does not change anything, and we can use the time to better review the information we have."
The delay opens up the liklihood that other junior high schools, eliminated earlier from further closing studies, will be looked at again.
During the extra month, the school board will try to give more information to the public on the criteria it is using to determine a school to close.
The board plans to invite junior high school principals to speak at their work session tonight and will hold a public hearing Apr. 28 on school board goals and the "direction Arlington schools should be going."
The petition, which asked the board to delay several months before deciding to close a junior high school, listed 1,850 names. About half of those who signed represented Stratford and Swanson junior high schools and elementary schools whose pupils later would attend those two junior highs, said Ingrid Planert, a Stratford parent who organized the petition. The board last month selected Swanson and Kenmore junior high schools to be further considered for closing along with Stratford.
"We would have liked the board to delay their decision for more time," Planert said. "But we are plesed to have a pause and we will use it to show the board other considerations we think they should take into account."
She added that the informal coalition of parents and citizens that prepared the petition "will pursue the idea of making a first-through-eighth-grade 'tradition' school our of Stratford which would be open to pupils all over the county."
The board agreed in January to close one junior high school in 1978-1979 because of declining pupil enrollment country-wide. The board maintains is not economical to keep several under-enrolled schools in operation, and that smaller schools lose educational programs and services that larger schools can has accomodate. The board has established a quota of at least 500 pupils for each of the junior high schools, which will become seventh and eighth grade intermediate schools in September, 1978.
Cuban recommended closing Stratford, at 4100 N. Vacation La. and the oldest junior high school in the county at 4100 North Vacation Lane, for a variety of reasons. Chief among them are the need for extensive capital improvements to the building, its declining enrollment and its proximity to community resources that he says would make it a convenient location for other school programs.
In his recommendation, Cuban also said that seventh grade pupils could have an option next year to attend the school they are districted to attend now, or the school they may be redistricted to in 1978 as a result of a school closing.
The board forfeited that option by agreeing to delay their school closing decision. Cuban had said the option could be taken only if the board decided on new school attendance areas by April 21, since time would be needed to assign staff to schools and plan schedules before September.
The superintendent noted that after a junior high school is closed in 1978, none of the five remaining junior highs will be considered again for checking until 1981.
Among criteria the board will consider before deciding to close Stratford or another junior high are the continuity of enrollment levels, desired functional space, current and future maintenance costs, ethnic diversity, the minimizing of how many students are redistricted and how often, the potential effect of the proposed I-66 raise money and the impact of a closing on other parts of the country.
Parents suggested other items to consider, among them how smaller schools damage educational benefits. They suggested the board present examples of what programs and services would be eliminated with pupil population.
The board will study junior high school closing issues at another work session April 20.