- Associated Press - Sunday, June 5, 2016

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - A plan to move students from a decaying Hartford schoolhouse to a neighboring building’s lower level is stirring cries of discrimination in a predominantly black neighborhood.

Renovation work has been put off for years at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School, on a hilltop in the city’s north end. In announcing the move recently, the district said the 1920s-era building is in disrepair and has only one functional boiler that could fail at any time.

Some parents say the 350 students will not be any better off across the street, where advocates say overcrowding will be an issue and students as young as 4 will be sharing a hallway and bathrooms with students as old as 15. They also say the space lacks a lock for the front door and a public address system.

“Show me a school of predominantly white students in this region where conditions such as these would be tolerated, and where decisions to warehouse students in a basement for cost savings would be tolerated,” Muhammad Ansari, president of the NAACP for greater Hartford, said at a protest rally last week outside the school. “You cannot because it would not be allowed.”

The Gothic-style schoolhouse has had improvements postponed repeatedly over the last several years while other schools have been upgraded. A $68 million overhaul that was supposed to begin this year was canceled amid state budget cuts.

“I understand why they are upset. They should be angry,” said Richard Wareing, the chairman of Hartford’s Board of Education. “They’ve been promised something for 10 years and now the truth is there probably is no money to do it.”

Adding to the frustration for many parents is the absence of a long-term plan.

Natalie Langlaise, a student’s parent, said at the rally that the situation is a source of anxiety for her and her child.

“It’s about injustice. It’s about discrimination. It’s about being repeatedly told you are not good enough. That’s what you tell us when you don’t want to invest in us,” she said.

The proposed new location, the Lewis Fox Middle School, is owned by the school district but also currently houses a charter school. Officials say it is the only option that could accommodate the community’s wish for the MLK students to avoid being split up among multiple locations.

The district recently launched a project to gather community input as it develops a long-term plan for its facilities, including the MLK school. Wareing said no date has been set for the board to take up the recommendation for relocation but he said that for now, he believes the proposed new site would be better for the students.

“That school needs to be renovated or it needs to be closed,” Wareing said. “It is beyond its useful life.”

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