AUSTIN, Texas — Austin ISD broke a lot of hearts when they voted to close four schools this year. Brooke, Metz, Sims and Pease Elementary schools won't exist after May, forcing kids to start over in new schools.
Some parents said that decision has caused behavioral problems, slipping grades and fear in their kids.
The main issue, according to the district, is under-enrollment.
“Govalle is not my choice. That’s where we’re supposed to go for next year and that’s two miles away," Carly Weaver said.
Weaver's 5-year-old daughter, Greta Myers, currently attends Brooke Elementary, which is just a one-mile-walk for the Weaver-Myers family's home. Living so close to the school has been easier for them because, for the last year, the family has only had one car.
Greta's father, Matt Myers, has his own business and so does Weaver.
"I’m a full-time artist and small business owner," Weaver said. “Our family, we had some issues with just the one vehicle, but there are families at Brooke that have no vehicles.”
But with AISD closing Brooke Elementary, the district plans to send students living north of Lady Bird Lake to Govalle Elementary. If they live south of Lady Bird Lake, they'll be sent to Linder Elementary. The changes are causing issues for hundreds of families like Greta's.
"Being displaced by going to a school that's two miles away that's not part of our community and it's just another way of displacement, you know? Schools. So people will start to go to different places," Weaver said. "'Kindergarten. Yay! We're going to public school!' And it just turned into this like, very awful, dark-seeded understanding of how AISD operates. Deep-rooted racism and inequities that happen from the East side to the West side schools."
AISD claims those schools are in poor condition and under-enrolled. The majority of students impacted are kids of color and economically disadvantaged families, which is why hundreds of parents protested and called the closures racist.
AISD's own Chief Equity Officer Stephanie Hawley said the school closures were unfair.
Back in November during the closures vote meeting, Hawley said, "The map that you have of school closures is a map of what 21st-century racism looks like."
She said there was no documentation on how those schools were picked.
"I’m an old teacher and I need to see your work. I didn’t see your work," Hawley said.
In Hawley's 20-page Equity Analysis of Process, Principles & Practices report, released in December, she argued the decision to close four elementary schools would gravely affect under-served communities and continue racial and economic segregation.
She said it's "short-term and short-sighted approaches" to save money and underserved students aren't getting help this way.
“We picked Brooke because it was in the neighborhood, and I felt pretty strongly about staying in the neighborhood," Weaver said. “It’s a kind of unique and fantastic campus. That a lot of people, when I mentioned I was going to Brooke, 'Oh, I haven’t heard of it' and I tell them about it and they go, 'That’s a public school?'”
AISD said their decisions were hard, but it closed the schools because there are 7,000 unfilled seats in classrooms and they need more than $1 billion to repair schools.
KVUE reached out to the AISD Board of Trustees for weeks for an on-camera interview. We wanted to know if they had any second thoughts after all the criticism. After numerous attempts, our emails, calls and messages went unanswered. So, we took our questions to the school district's administration.
"What message can AISD send to parents who are calling the district racist, calling this unfair? They're really upset about that and they feel like they're not getting any help. What message does AISD have for those parents," KVUE's Mari Salazar asked.
"We went through the process and we have admitted that maybe we could have done some things differently, but as we go through the process, giving students the best support is what we want. We want to be able to do that for our students, and with our parents, and we asked for their help with that," said Reyne Telles, with AISD communications and engagement.
The district stands behind its decision and they're sticking with it even after the equity report came out.
"After a thoughtful and deliberative process, our trustees made that decision and what the administration needs to do now is focus on creating a transition that will be at the best interest of our students, particularly those that are impacted," Telles said. "After they made that decision, we needed to as an administration, apply that decision with the highest fidelity and the most effort that we could in order to make that transition as stress-free as possible."
Parents like Weaver don't buy that.
"I think it's very important at this day and age to recognize racism is happening. To try to rectify that whether it's advocating, educating, whatever you need to do to so it doesn't happen anymore," Weaver said.
Enrollment will continue to decline. AISD released its 2020 Demographic Report Predictions in February. It shows they'll lose nearly 5,000 students over the next five years because of a lack of affordable housing and families enrolling in charter schools.
"Nobody feels like they're being helped. This is way more hassle, way more challenges. People are trying to figure out where to send their kids," Weaver said.
Weaver knows she has no choice but to figure out where to send Greta next school year. But when she sees an injustice, she said she'll do whatever she can to fix it.
“More than a little disheartening to recognize that it’s disbanding the community here. So for us, that we’ve lived here for 15 years – which is a small amount of time compared to other generations that have lived here – that it was our opportunity for our community and sending our daughter to the school down the street," Weaver said.
There were a few other recent stories that came to light in the last week regarding AISD.
On Wednesday, Feb. 19, AISD's Superintendent Paul Cruz announced his resignation in a letter to the district. In the press conference on Monday when Cruz was asked about the school closures that were recently approved and what the process will be going forward now that he is moving on, he said, "There's significant work ahead and that will continue." He also said that specific dates for school closures will be discussed in the near future.
On Friday, Feb. 21, AISD revoked some school transfers that were previously approved for families at Pease Elementary, saying the transfers were into frozen schools and "not within the purview of administrators to grant." During Monday night's Austin ISD school board meeting, some parents from Pease had the chance to express their concerns regarding those revoked transfers.
There are also eight AISD schools expected to be under consideration for closure again this year. AISD released its first version of the school closure plan in September 2019, which included 12 schools that were supposed to close, but the district received push back from the community.
The eight schools that are expected to be discussed sometime this year are:
- Dawson Elementary
- Joslin Elementary
- Maplewood Elementary
- Palm Elementary
- Pecan Springs Elementary
- Ridgetop Elementary
- Webb Middle School
- Sadler Means Young Women’s Leadership Academy
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