Educate Denver calls on DPS to be transparent about school closures

A group that includes a state senator, an ex-mayor, former school board members and more is calling on Denver Public Schools to be more transparent about how the district decided which schools to recommend for closure next year.

The statement issued Friday by Educate Denver comes just days after DPS announced it is looking to close 10 schools because of declining enrollment. If the plan is approved by the district’s Board of Education next month, then more than 1,500 students will have to change schools next year.

“…(A)s board members consider school consolidations and closures, they must move with families through a transparent process that includes their voices,” said state Sen. James Coleman, D-Denver, and co-chair of the coalition, in a statement. “Clarity around the criteria used to inform these recommendations and commitment to a timeline that allows for meaningful dialogue in each school community is non-negotiable.”

Educate Denver is a coalition of more than 30 education and political leaders who advocate for a high-quality education for DPS students. Those in the coalition include former Denver Mayor Federico Peña; former University of Colorado President Bruce Benson; Lisa Escárcega, a member of the state Board of Education; and several former DPS school board directors.

Citing the “emotional trauma that surrounds school closure,” the coalition said that families and district employees need more data and time “to understand the programmatic shortcomings of under-enrolled schools” and a clear timeline for the transition.

The coalition also pushed district leaders, including the superintendent and school board directors, to hold meetings with families and employees affected by the potential closures. The school board should also hold an extended public hearing, the group said in the statement.

DPS has talked about potentially closing schools for more than the year because of declining enrollment and finally released its consolidation plan Tuesday. District leaders will present the plan to the school board on Thursday, and the directors will vote on whether to approve it on Nov. 17.

The plan identifies which schools the displaced students will go to if the board approves the recommendation. District data shows a large percentage of students enrolled at nine of the 10 schools are Hispanic or Black and most students qualify for subsidized lunches.

It’s unknown how many employees will be affected as the district hasn’t released that data.

The community needs to know more about the district’s decision, including the criteria used in the closure decisions; criteria excluded from consideration; why certain schools that met the criteria were selected over other schools; how many schools might close in the future; and the financial benefits or costs associated with the closure, Educate Denver said.

A DPS representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Educate Denver’s statement.

When it released its plan, the district said it looked at schools with fewer than 215 students and “each school’s unique context” in making its recommendation.

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