Immediately before the Arlington School Board voted Thursday night to close three elementary schools, parents protested that board members were putting too much emphasis on keeping new school facilities open and were downplaying some of their own stated guidelines for keeping schools open.
The school board, which had already heard similar complaints from parents during long hours of public hearings, eventually voted to close Claremont Elementary in June and to close Reed and Barrett elementaries at the end of the 1983-1984 school year. Barrett might not be closed if its enrollment increases significantly by May 1984, the board said.
"We're very disappointed," said Nan Cooper, a parent of two children who attend Reed. One of the oldest schools in the county, Reed's three-story building, constructed in 1939, has few provisions for handicapped students and only five air conditioners. But Reed parents, like Cooper, nevertheless complained that the board chose to shut Reed and send students to newer schools at the expense of dismantling Reed's highly praised instructional program.
"What it comes down to is the age of the bricks in the building," Cooper said.
Barrett "meets all the criteria" for remaining open, including its central location and the ethnic diversity of its student population, argued another parent, Barbara Baker, who expressed shock Thursday night at the decisions on closings.
Barrett is also one of the county's oldest elementary schools but, Baker pointed out to the board, the school underwent renovations in 1975, acquiring a new gymnasium and media center at a total cost of $800,000. Like Reed and Claremont, however, Barrett has an enrollment that is less than half of its capacity--and school board members have decreed that declining enrollment could be a reason for closing a school. Barrett has about 234 students and can accommodate 470.
Claremont parents did not vigorously oppose the eventual closing of that 20-year-old school, which has no air conditioning or gymnasium facilities, but they were reluctant to do it this year. The parents said they recognized, however, that there are better education facilities at the nearby Abingdon school.
Ultimately, school board officials gave priority to new school facilities that may have had declining enrollment but were nevertheless best suited for taking in new students from older schools.
"It's pointless to deal in closing new facilities," said board member Claude Hilton. "Programs can be moved, facilities cannot," he said.
Board member Margaret Bocek said modern schools such as Tuckahoe, which was among the seven candidates for closing because of its low enrollment, are fully air-conditioned with special areas for music and athletics and could handle demands from new students from schools that would be closed.
Bocek urged the board to combine the "excellent instructional program at Reed with one of our best facilities, Tuckahoe." The board voted to send Reed's students to Tuckahoe, Nottingham or McKinley schools. Claremont's students are to be transferred to Abingdon. No decision was made on where Barrett students will be transferred.
Other factors that the board considered in its decision-making Thursday night were limiting the number of students who would be transferred to a new school, the racial and ethnic balance that would result from those transfers, and providing for projected increases in student enrollment.