Parents blasted the Indianapolis Public Schools district on Thursday night over what they say is a lack of information surrounding the district’s plan to potentially close or consolidate schools.
Over nearly two hours of public comment, parents and students begged officials not to break up K-8 schools and voiced concern at an IPS meeting that the plan will bring more charter schools into the district.
IPS is marketing the plan, called Rebuilding Stronger, as an effort to increase quality programs to underserved children of color while also cutting costs to address declining enrollment. The district has struggled for years with losing students to charter schools, many of which are affiliated with the district through its Innovation Network.
IPS hasn’t shared the plan, but hinted at possible changes in June. Those include breaking up K-8 schools into grades K-5 and 6-8 and possibly closing schools with poor facility conditions and dwindling student populations.
The district says that standalone middle schools offer more enrichment programs than K-8 neighborhood schools. It has also noted that academic offerings vary across middle school grades. Eleven of the 12 IPS schools with middle grades offering Algebra I are choice schools, while only one is a neighborhood school.
Another proposed change is creating demographically diverse enrollment zones that allow families to pick from multiple schools in one zone.
At the Thursday IPS board meeting, Superintendent Aleesia Johnson said she will unveil the plan after her annual state of the district speech on Sep. 13. The board has decided to vote on the plan in November, instead of the October date publicized earlier, and will hold community engagement meetings before the vote.
Parents still weren’t satisfied with the timeline and said the information provided was too little too late.
“The information presented tonight needed to be released months ago, and questions answered tonight,” said Windi Hornsby, a parent with children at the Theodore Potter Spanish Immersion School 74.
Parent Stacey Young said the survey that IPS sent out regarding Rebuilding Stronger was “truly horrible” – a sentiment echoed by other parents.
Parents said previously published data showing how many people supported and opposed grade reconfiguration was skewed because parents were asked to fill out both positives and negatives of grade reconfigurations.
“We want true data that shows which schools are desired in each quadrant,” Young said. “We want information beyond facility costs.”
Many parents also pushed back on the potential breakup of K-8 schools into grades K-5 and 6-8, saying they specifically moved into IPS boundaries or that they were in another district but chose to send their child to IPS schools.
The district just integrated its failing 6-8 middle grades into K-8 buildings a few years back, some parents noted, and they said it should not switch back.
Kristina Hulvershon, an IPS alumnus, former teacher, and parent of two students, said the district addressed the middle school issue several years ago.
“There was a collective sigh of relief knowing that the amazing teachers who knew our kids since they were kindergarteners, would continue to be part of our kids’ lives,” she said.
Parents also expressed concern about the potential closure of neighborhood schools and said that the Rebuilding Stronger plan would drive families away and ultimately invite more charter schools into the district.
“Underperforming schools are being thrown to the wolves, and I’m concerned the district’s expecting me not to notice if I get the choice that I want for my kids,” said parent Megan Kriebel, describing her concern about a broader effort to transform the district into charter schools. “Or if I have the resources available to move my children to other places.”
Board members thanked the public for engaging in comment before heading into an executive session.
In a statement, the district said the responses from surveys will be posted online in the coming days.
The district plans to hold community meetings for input on the plan from Sep. 14 to Oct. 17.
Amelia Pak-Harvey covers Indianapolis and Marion County schools for Chalkbeat Indiana. Contact Amelia at firstname.lastname@example.org.