The D.C. government has a law on the books: D.C. charter schools have a “first right of offer” on vacant school buildings.
But the D.C. government has a conflicting policy: If a schoolhouse owned by the city is closed, first right of refusal for leasing it belongs to the D.C. government. Charter schools are considered next in the line.
That’s the game City Hall plays with families and children who want to attend charter schools. It’s as if elected and appointed city officials consider charter schoolchildren to be “foreigners.”
What’s equally bad is that the District is breaking both the spirit and the letter of the law when it closes a traditional public school and then forces charter schools to apply to occupy it, as if the children who would attend the school are, here again, foreigners.
Consider the former Ferebee-Hope School in Southeast, which closed six years ago. The D.C. Association of Public Chartered Schools has launched an ad campaign complaining that the city has a lengthy list of children — 12,000 — whose families want their school-age kids to attend charter schools, but the District stubbornly refuses to hand over facilities.
No growth in charter enrollment means no competition for D.C. Public Schools, which is city hall’s main point of contention.
This comment speaks volumes: “We believe the reactivation of the Ferebee-Hope site must include the entire site, which includes the community recreation center and pool,” said Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn. “Including the entire site can bring energy and momentum in bringing more jobs and benefits to the community, and the renovation of Ferebee-Hope Recreation Center will provide many benefits to residents.”
Well, double duh. Schools and recreational centers are beneficial to residents.
And let’s not ignore the doublespeak. What Mr. Kihn is really saying is that the D.C. charter movement began as the chief competition for traditional public schools more than three decades ago, and the city is going toughing it out with a tug of war.
Ferebee-Hope isn’t the only example, however, as several schools have been shuttered for years.
The former Spingarn High, near the abandoned RFK Stadium, was closed at the end of 2012-13 school year. The premise: City Hall didn’t want the building and its students to butt heads with the new streetcar turnaround. Children were forced to ride buses or taxis or be driven by their parents to schools miles way. The streetcar route doesn’t reach any of those other schools.
Brown v. Board of Education was decided in 1954, two years after Spingarn was deliberately opened as a segregated school for black kids.
Is it possible that while the U.S. Supreme Court decision may have largely rendered the school segregation issue moot the ZIP code-crazed bureaucrats have found a way to resurrect it?
As Ramona Edelin, executive director of the Association of Public Chartered Schools, put it earlier this summer in her piece for The Hill: “[S]cores of schoolhouses have been sold for luxury condominiums. Other school buildings in less sought-after neighborhoods have been left empty and not properly maintained.
“The city’s large surplus inventory is a product of the old segregated school system and a generational fall in school enrollment, as the traditional public school system entered a spiral of decline from the mid-1960s through the introduction of charters in the mid-1990s,” she wrote.
Kids flourish best when they have a school home, a schoolhouse their parents have chosen for them.
There is no law that says that school home must be run by D.C. Public Schools or City Hall.
City officials must scrap the charades and give the 12,000 schoolchildren what they need and deserve.
⦁ Deborah Simmons can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.