Community expresses outrage about LRSD school closures, disproportionately in poorer areas

Theresa Duhart, a Franklin Elementary School parent, fights back tears expressing concerns that her daughter won't be able to adjust at a new school. (Photo: KATV)

Not more than 24 hours after parents at four Little Rock School District schools learned their schools will likely close at the end of the school year, dozens of those parents turned to out to ask questions and make their opinions known about the fate of their schools.

Wednesday’s meeting happened inside the cafeteria at Franklin Elementary School, one of the schools recommended on Tuesday to be closed at the end of the 2016-2017 school year.

Theresa Duhart, a parent with a student currently at Franklin and four others that also attended Franklin in the past, expressed her outrage at the district’s decision to close her daughter’s school.

Duhart was brought to tears as she described the Franklin staff as family, claiming her daughter and other students who will have to transfer to other schools will have a hard time adjusting.

“It’s like you’re taking the kids away from their parents and putting them in a strange land – it’s not fair,” lamented Duhart.

What others argued also wasn’t fair about LRSD’s recommendations for closures is where the closures are happening. Joe Busby, president of the University District Neighborhood Association, said the closures affect some of the city’s poorer areas which includes where he lives.

Why is this burden put on the neighborhoods south of I-630 and the black community specifically?” questioned Busby.

Three of the four schools slated to be closed are south of I-630, although one is expected to be repurposed as a K-8 school, according to the district.

State Senator Joyce Elliott expressed her concerns at Wednesday’s meeting not as a legislator, according to Elliott, but as a citizen who lives roughly a block from Franklin Elementary School. The former educator said her neighborhood and the majority of neighborhoods south of I-630 are historically neglected by the city, and the closure of Franklin would only prevent her neighborhood from making any progress.

“We moved here under the notion there are folks here who are stable – we’re in the University District,” said Elliott, discussing why she moved to an area she believed was growing and changing.

“We can be something different and something special, but we can’t be this something different and something special without a school.”

While Superintendent Poore tried to answer questions and quell concerns about the district’s plans to close schools, the answers Poore gave weren’t really the answers Franklin parents and concerned neighbors were looking for. Many attending Wednesday’s meeting were concerned what they were saying was simply falling on deaf ears.

Community members were reminded that the final decision on cuts and closures remains with Arkansas Education Commissioner Johnny Key, who acts as the Little Rock School Board while the district remains in academic distress. Pam Smith, LRSD spokesperson, also told parents that Wednesday’s meeting was being recorded and the footage would be sent to Commissioner Key to help him make his final decision on cuts. But many parents appeared leery of whether their comments and concerns really mattered at this point.

The district plans to hold another public input meeting on Thursday at Wilson Elementary School, one of the other schools slated for closure. That meeting will start at 5:30 PM.

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