With little more than a month remaining before classes begin, the D.C. school board held two hastily scheduled public hearings last week on a request by Superintendent Vincent E. Reed to close Lennox and Simmons elementary schools before September.
Under the plan, students from lenox, on 5th Street SE, would be transferred to Giddings Elementary, on G Street SE between 3rd and 4th streets, and students from Simmons, at 1st and Pierce streets NW, would be moved to Waler-Jones, at 1st and L streets NW.
The proposed closings brought complaints from parents and teachers at the hearings that they were not given enough notice to plan for the closings and that the closures might displace some teachers. The principal of Simmons said she first heard of the closings when a parent asked her about it.
Simmons parents testified they were also concerned that transferring Simmons students to Walker-Jones could result in classroom violence because the two schools are rivals.
During the hearings held on separate evenings -- board member Jonn E. Warren (Ward 6) presided at the Lenox meeting and Alaire Rieffel (Ward 2) heard testimony at Simmons -- board members told parents and teachers that a decision would have to be reached by the full board. The school board's next scheduled meeting is the third week of September but the board could try to comply with Reed's request for a decision before school opens by holding a special meeting.
As a result of compaints about the closings, another public hearing on the proposal to close Lenox has been scheduled for August 21 at Giddings Elementary.
In addition, Rieffel has agreed to present objections about closing Simmons to the school board at its next meeting.
If the school board does not make a decision on the closings before the beginning of school, however, the dalay could set up a chaotic situation for students who would have to move to another school after classes begin. Problems would arise not just at Lenox and Simmons, but at other schools as well because of what Warren described as a "domino kind of reaction."
Reed said in a letter to the school board, presented at a special meeting of the board last month, that his recomendation to close Lenox is part of a complicated chain of student transfers that are supposed to take place this fall.
Because the Fort Lincoln Elementary School will not be ready for opening this fall as originally scheduled, Reed proposed that special education students from Grant, who were supposed to attend Fort Lincoln, be moved instead to Linox. This would enable students from the School Without Walls to be moved from the Magruder Building into Grant. Then the school Office of Energy Conservation could be moved into Magruder -- making that building available for use as a demonstration site in September for manufacturers of energy saving devices for the District schools.
At the special school board meeting last month, the board waived its own rule to give 15 days notice before public hearings, and scheduled the two community hearings last week. However, only a handful of people attended. Although Warren said he had sent out notices to parents, teachers complained they had not been told of the meetings by school personnel.
Warren told the small gathering at Lenox, "There will be no railroading here."
He said if there were strong objections to the school closings he would look into alternatives.
Although the proposal to close Lenox was an "unusual step on the part of the school board and the administration," he said, the decision was based on dwindling enrollment and the cost of operation.
Warren, who organized a task force in 1978 to study school space utilization in Ward 6, said that although Giddings Elementary also had declining enrollment, its building is a landmark and the school plant facilities are better.
One Lenox parent, Martha Benbow, of 1011 7th St. SE, said she hated to see Lenox closed because her son Taylor loves to go to school. "It's just like going home to him to go to school."
Parents of students at both Lenox and Simons echoed Benbow's sentiments and praised the quality of education the students received at both schools.
At one point during the meeting at Simmons, parents demanded to know what the school board's decision will be on the closing.
"We got to make preparation for our kids," said Edna Riely, of Q St. NW. "They will be frustrated and that can be a throw back for them in their education."
Because of the rivalry between Simmons and Walker-Jones students,, parents said they feared that fights could break out when the schools merge.
Dr. William Brown, Region 4 assistant superintendent, told parents that he would work out plans with Simmons principal of the merged schools, to assure the safety of the children and to avoid any problems during the transition.
School officials said that Simmons was being closed because of problems with the facility including a faulty heater and unsafe bathrooms located in the basement. Reed has proposed demolishing Simmons and using the grounds for a recreation area for Terrell Junior High School located across the street.