A plan to relocate hundreds of predominantly Hispanic students from southside schools to northside schools was met with disdain Tuesday by parents who said they fear for the safety of their children and worry they will lose interest in school and drop out.
More than 300 people attended a meeting at U.S. Grant High School called by the Oklahoma City school district to get feedback on the controversial proposal, which officials said would alleviate overcrowding at several southside high schools and middle schools beginning with the 2014-2015 school year.
“This school system has failed these parents and these students on the south side of Oklahoma City,” Juanita Vasquez Sykes told a panel of school district officials that included interim Superintendent Dave Lopez, George Kimball, the district’s chief information officer, and former Grant Principal Tamie Sanders, the district’s executive director of secondary education.
Under the proposal, 224 students projected to attend Grant, 5016 S Pennsylvania, would instead attend Northwest Classen High, 2801 NW 27. Another 169 students projected to attend Capitol Hill High, 500 SW 36, would attend Douglass Mid-High, 900 Martin Luther King Ave.
Teresa Terry, the parent of two daughters who attend Grant and one daughter who attends Jefferson but would attend Grant next year, said she is worried about the potential for violence that comes with busing southside students to northside schools.
We’ve got enough violence in the schools. We don’t need to add to it,” Terry said. They’re worried about going to different schools. “If they can’t stay at Grant then I’ll homeschool them.”
Middle schools affected by the plan include Roosevelt, Webster and Jefferson, which feed into Capitol Hill, and Taft, which feeds into Northwest Classen. Taft would gain 167 students that otherwise attend Jefferson, Roosevelt or Webster. Those schools stand to lose a projected 292 students to northside schools, officials said.
“It’s not ideal, but it’s a way to relieve some of the pressure,” Kimball said.
The only permanent solution, Kimball added, would be a bond issue to build new schools that could take up to four years.
Lopez offered up several alternatives to relocation, including a plan to build as many as 50 additional classrooms at Capitol Hill and Grant with $27 million in leftover Maps for KIDs money.
Other temporary solutions include adding portable classrooms and having high school seniors attend in shifts to free up classroom space.
“We don’t have all the answers,” Lopez said. “There are no ideal options.”
In some cases, students would be bused nearly six miles to their new schools, which didn’t sit well with Anita Bibb, the parent of a Capitol Hill sophomore.
“What if he misses the bus? What if there’s an emergency? Bibb, 43, asked. “I would have further to go to get him.”
Many who spoke criticized the district for overlooking the needs of southside students over the years and said uprooting kids with ties to their local neighborhoods is a bad idea.
Casey and Misty Patterson said their 14-year-old daughter has improved academically since joining Junior ROTC at Capitol Hill. They fear she will lose interest in school if reassigned.
“I’d rather she keep her grades up,” Casey Patterson said. “She doesn’t want to go anywhere else.”
Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, who represents many southsiders, said neither Northwest Classen nor Douglass are equipped to handle the high percentage of English Language Learners who could be transferred.
“I don’t know who came up with this idea, but ... I hope it ends up in a file cabinet that will not be reopened,” he said. “No one down here wants this plan. If you proceed with this plan, I’m going to do everything I can to stop it.”
The school board is scheduled to vote on the plan Monday. But Lopez, after hearing from several speakers, said he would ask for some more time to consider the issues raised during the meeting.
“You’ve demonstrated your heart tonight,” Lopez said.