Four months after Superintendent Andrew E. Jenkins recommended merging Moten and Wilkinson elementary schools into much older Moten, the school system has reversed itself and is proposing to close Moten this September and move most of its students to Wilkinson.
That sounded good to some parents until they heard the word "most." Under a plan announced last week, the school system would move only fourth- and fifth-graders from Moten to Wilkinson, and transfer Moten's sixth-graders to Douglass Junior High to create the city's first "two-tiered middle school."
Sixth- and seventh-graders would be housed in one part of Douglass and eighth- and ninth-graders in another, officials said. It would be the first time in the District that students of these age groups would be in one school.
The plan has upset some parents, who say the school system failed to consult them and is rushing to close Moten to undermine opposition.
The proposal to close Moten instead of Wilkinson resulted in part from an outpouring of opposition from area parents to closing the bright and airy 15-year-old Wilkinson, which has offered a model program for the area's kindergartners through third-graders.
The city had wanted to turn Wilkinson into a center for special education students until the parents pleaded to keep it for community youngsters.
Moten is a large, deteriorating 36-year-old building on a hill at the edge of Fort Stanton Park in Southeast Washington. In recent years, it has housed only the neighborhood's fourth- through sixth-graders.
School officials said there are 1,100 students in the area, yet the three schools there -- Moten, Wilkinson and Douglass -- have room for nearly 3,000.
Ward 8 school board member R. Calvin Lockridge said it makes sense to close one of the schools.
Moten, with 347 students, is operating at 30 percent of capacity. Wilkinson, with 495 students, has a capacity of 598 plus space that had been used as a library. That means it probably could hold more than 1,000 students, Lockridge said.
Mary Levy, of Parents United for the D.C. Public Schools, said the school system appears to have kept the full plan secret from the community as long as possible.
She said Parents United first informed Moten teachers about it three weeks ago, after a school board member mentioned it at a PTA meeting in another part of the city.
She said creating a middle school is a "drastic" change that requires planning and a long period of community consultation.
"One does not create a middle school just by declaring it," she said.
Lockridge has said publicly since April that he wanted to close Moten, but many residents said they were surprised when school board members hastily called a community meeting last week to announce the full details of the plan.
About 150 people attended the meeting, and many criticized the middle-school idea. They said they feared that sixth-graders would be intimidated by the older students.
Lockridge said the families that asked him to close Moten at the Wilkinson public hearing in April are the same ones who now are demanding that Moten remain open.
Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Albert A. Pearsall said parents were so embroiled in the fight to keep Wilkinson open that they never had the chance to think about the effect closing Moten would have on the community.
He said residents never thought the school system would close Moten next year because it was never on the superintendent's list of schools proposed to be closed.
Pearsall called last week's meeting a "farce" because school officials already have decided to close the school.
Although board members have yet to vote on the issue, Lockridge said school officials have decided. He said the school board will call a special meeting after July 15 to take the formal vote.
He said that people always oppose school closings but that "parents will come to understand that the best decision was made."
Lockridge said he expects the school system to keep Moten and use it for school-related purposes such as administrative offices.