Denver Public Schools cuts school closure list in half to 5

The school board will still have to approve the plan to address declining enrollment in neighborhood schools.

Denver Public Schools headquarters on Lincoln Street, Thursday March 12, 2020

Denver Public Schools headquarters on Lincoln Street, Thursday March 12, 2020

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News

Denver Public Schools has backtracked from a controversial plan to close 10 schools starting in the 2023-24 school year.

Superintendent Alex Marrero announced Thursday night that the district will now recommend five schools for consolidation. The school board will vote on whether to approve that recommendation at a Nov. 17 meeting, according a district spokesperson.

The schools that are still on the closure list:

  • Denver Discovery School
  • Schmitt Elementary
  • Fairview Elementary
  • International Academy of Denver at Harrington
  • Math and Science Leadership Academy

Marrero said in a letter to the school district that Fairview will no longer be a school but would remain “a community fixture as an Early Childhood Center in support of the Sun Valley redevelopment.”

These five schools receive more than two-thirds of the $5 million that DPS provides to subsidize the original 10 schools that were recommended for closure, Marrero wrote in that same letter.

“We acknowledge these decisions involve people, not just numbers and dollars. For that reason, and, because we care so much about these communities, we are working to get ahead of this issue and ensure we are making the best decisions for the larger DPS community,” Marrero said in a statement.

News of the potential closures was met with criticism by community members who felt DPS had not engaged with parents and that it had not been transparent in its process.

The move to close schools comes as DPS and other districts across the state deal with falling enrollment. The district lost 3,600 students, or 3% of the total student body just between 2019 and 2021. It expects to lose 3,000 more students during the next four years. That will likely mean a loss of $36 million annually.

A public comment session is scheduled for Nov. 14.

Parents at schools taken off the list remain worried, and want to keep fighting for all the schools at risk of closure.

“We really need to come together as a community, and even if we’re safe, we have to fight for other communities that are not safe,” said Mandy Nunes Hennessey, who has been organizing against the closures with Mamas de DPS, a group she helped found made up of Latino parents in the school system.

Nunes Hennessey said she worries about the five schools slated for closure, since she is not sure they have people who are as organized and involved in protesting the closures as parents at the schools taken off the list. She thinks future rounds of closures will come, and that splitting the announcements up will only lessen organizing power and community engagement. 

“We’ve been fighting this for over a year now, and it’s hard to stay engaged, we all have families and jobs and life,” Nunes Hennessey said. She wants school closures taken off the table until the conversation includes charter schools as well.

Manuel Aragon has a daughter at Colfax Elementary, one of the schools removed from the closures list. He also thinks the latest announcement only provides a false sense of security.

“Because there’s uncertainty, we just haven’t figured out how we’re going to talk about it or engage our daughter around it, because we know it’s already been traumatic, this idea of her school closing,” he said. “Right now we’d like to see some steps towards building trust, because it’s not there.”

Shantelle Mulliniks has two kids at Colfax Elementary and was surprised by DPS’ latest announcement. 

“We just spent the last three weeks in our school, multiple meetings, late night, kids that are crying, parents that are crying,” she said.

For Mulliniks, there’s temporary relief, but she worries her school could still close in the future. Like many others, she wants better communication from DPS.

“This is not the way that you close schools, this is not community engagement, and you’re harming communities that have already been harmed by the way that they’re doing things right now,” she said.

The original plan faced pushback from the school board. Now, it’s unclear how members will vote.

After the original list of 10 recommended schools came out, Chalkbeat reported that three school board members voiced opposition to the plan, and two said they were undecided. It was unclear if the recommendations would have passed as originally written.

At least one of the original board members in opposition, Vice President Auon’tai M. Anderson, has come out against the revised plan as well.

“I have visited all ten schools that were originally identified and have shared with each community that I will not vote for any plan that closes their schools unless they tell me directly that they actually want to close or consolidate,” Anderson wrote in a statement Friday. He said the new plan does not address core problems with community engagement in the process.

It’s unclear how board members plan on voting on the revised plan of five schools, which will take place Thursday.

CPR News reporter Jenny Brundin contributed to this article.

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