Response to the Denver School Board Announcement Regarding School Closures

Community activists protesting school closures outside Denver Board of Education meeting in June 2017.  📷  Credit  Our Denver, Our Schools

Community activists protesting school closures outside Denver Board of Education meeting in June 2017. 📷 Credit Our Denver, Our Schools

Earlier this month, the Denver Public Schools Board of Education (DPS BOE) released a written memo, a PowerPoint presentation, and a news release which explained to the public that the BOE’s actions for the coming year would not include any school closures.  As Denver educators who are directly impacted by all BOE decisions and as community members who care deeply about the past, present, and future of Denver’s educational opportunities for our students, there are several points of which we would like the public to be made aware.  

First, the BOE seems to have learned from the relentless efforts of Denver parents and families to keep their schools open.  In particular, the BOE’s December 2016 decision to close Gilpin Montessori was met with outpourings of community support for keeping Gilpin open.  The BOE’s decision not to listen to many hours of testimony over several board meetings from concerned, informed parents enraged many Denverites.  

It is also essential to understand that for decades, Denver residents have expressed strong support for involving school communities and families in decisions that impact their schools, particularly around restructuring and closure proposals.  At our March 2018 community forum, “The Illusion of School Choice,” our caucus of educators joined with dozens of Denver parents and community members to demand that the Denver BOE involve authentic, meaningful community input when considering any restructuring or closure plans for any school.  

The BOE member who released this recent memo on the BOE’s new temporary policy regarding school closures, Lisa Flores, is up for reelection in November 2019.  The district of Denver which she represents is home to North HS, which is currently co-located with a charter school.  While enrollment at North HS has increased over the past several years, enrollment at the Strive charter school within the North building has not grown as quickly as operators anticipated, an issue which was clear at a DPS-run public meeting about use of space in the North HS building in April 2018.  With tensions running hot at North - many North parents don’t believe DPS or the BOE are taking their concerns seriously - Lisa Flores is sure to have an eventful, closely-watched campaign for re-election should she seek to run again.  

One major change on the DPS Board of Education since the Gilpin, Greenlee, and Amesse closures and restarts that the BOE voted for in December 2016 has been the election of Dr. Carrie Olson to the BOE to represent District 3.  Dr. Olson is a strong supporter of traditional public schools, and her efforts to support underserved students - before and since her election to the school board - are to be commended and appreciated.

In summary, while we are content that no Denver schools will be closed in the coming year, we recommend that the BOE permanently adopt a moratorium on school closures and commit to consistently and equitably supporting all students in all schools - not simply pause school closures following a controversy or in preparation for an election year.  As elected office holders, school board members should always be listening to and acting on community concerns - not just when they decide it might be helpful to do so.