About 150 persons, mostly children, turned out last week for a "Save Our School" rally on the playground of the Bryan Elementary School. The four-hour frolic included speeches, entertainment and a fair share of rhetoric from area residents and local media personalities.
Mayoral candidate Marion Barry, School Board Member Barbara Lett Simmons and City Council candidates Goldie Johnson, James Warren and Betty Ann Kane came by to pledge their support, or as in Kane's case, her neutrality, to halt the proposed closing of the Capitol Hill school at 13th and Independence Avenue SE. Bryan is one of 13 elementary schools that have been recommended for closing by Superintendent Vincent Reed.
Since 1975 the enrollment at Bryan School has declined from 463 students to 406.It has a capacity for 689 children.
Community hearings on the proposed school closings will be held throughout the month of May. Bryan's hearing is set for 7 p.m. May 11 at the Hines Junior High School, 7th and C streets SE.
At the rally, which was sponsored by the Bryan Parent-Teacher Association, radio personality Petey Greene explained such academic matters as the power of the vote, while bright-eyed youngsters displayed coloful, hand-made signs reading "Don't Close the Doors" and other pro-Bryan slogans.
"What's happening here has mainly happened because bad government is in existence! I hate to see these babies suffer," said Greene, pointing to the children.
Past P-TA president James Lee said parents have no assurance that the community service programs provided at Bryan will be continued in neighboring schools, or whether any part of the revenue generated from closing Bryan will be returned to the area.
Lee said parents also feared the distance some children will have to travel. Neighboring schools - Payne and Watkins - are located at 15th and streets SE and 12th and E streets SE, respectively. Some Bryan students live 15 or more blocks away from these schools, said Lee. Major intersections will have to be crossed and school crossing guards aren't always available when children who go home for lunch or decide to play after school begin to return home.
"Now is the time that we should stick together and demand what we think is best for our children." said Goldie Johnson, who first explained she was running "against bad government, not individuals."
Betty Kane spoke briefly to the audience while holding onto her son Justin, 7. She said she too was concerned about school closings as a school board member and a parent. Her oldest son's school, Edmond-Pea-body, is also on the list.
"We haven't yet heard this strongly from other communities," she said, standing on the sidelines. "It's clear that this community feels very strongly about their school."
Kane said no decisions have been made about which schools would close, but teachers would not be fired nor educational programs lost by school closings. She also said the school closings were predicated on economics, not race.
John Warren, school board representative from that ward, challenged Kane to help supporters "take Bryan off the (proposed closing) list."
Barbara Simmons commented on the innovative programs of the school and cited the "perfect" 25-1 student-teacher balance, which shouldn't be disturbed just to fill-up space, she said.
Mayoral candidate Barry also pledged his support to Bryan School, but standing on the sidelines admitted, "The problem you run into is the legal decision will be made by the Board of Education. I will urge the board to carefully consider whether or not they have to close the school.
"Neighborhoods are changing, the economy is tightening. This area of town is changing with different kinds of families."
Mamie Williams agreed. She has lived in the 100 block of Kentucky Avenue NE and worked at Bryan as a volunteer and clerk for 20 years, she said. Her three daughters attended Bryan. Her two grandchildren go there now. "When we moved here there were three colored families on the block. All the white families moved out. Now they're coming back. The main thing is they're trying to push us all off Capitol Hill."