Empty seats were the backdrop for the community hearing Thursday evening at Harriet Tubman Elementary School on the proposed closing of Meyer Elementary School in Ward 1.
Representatives from District of Columbia Public Schools, including the Office of the Chancellor, came to discuss and hear testimony from concerned residents on the closing of Meyer and other schools within the ward. The atmosphere was quiet and still as the representatives waited for those to testify.
David Pansegrouw, a resident of the 100 block of Fairmont Street Northwest, was the only person who testified at the hearing. Pansegrouw gave insight into how the DCPS could handle worn-down school buildings.
He said DCPS should use the example of Oyster-Adams Bilingual School.
“If you look at what Adams was like last June,” Pansegrouw said, “it was stereotypical-paint peeling, asbestos in a room, mold making classrooms unusable.”
He talked about the work that went into making Adams a better school and said that the DCPS should follow that model.
“I don’t think I’m being naive, but things are possible,” he said.
According to district figures, Meyer Elementary was built in 1962 and has needed improvements since 1991. The school, like many others in the area, is in need of repairs. Enrollment has decreased and about 75 percent of the children come from low-income households, resulting in a high number of children who receive free lunch.
A Department of Health report stated the school faced about three critical health code violations. Meyer was cited for not having a certified food protection manager on duty, for storing food in the refrigerator on racks and for lacking hot water. Its top crime category was violence and the top crime type was improper conduct, totaling seven disruptive crimes, eight nonviolent crimes and eight violent crimes. Lastly, safety issues have ranged from a window broken by vandals to poor placement of electrical wires.
“The closing of D.C. Public Schools is a necessity,” stated Sharon Bovell, principal at Tubman Elementary. “I feel that it is a wonderful opportunity.”
Conducting the series of meetings about the proposal to close and consolidate schools has been tedious, but productive, said Peter Weber, chief of staff of the deputy chancellor.
“The meetings had started off in mid-December and ended early January,” Weber said. “They have been very successful, and a lot of people in the community have showed support and have attended entirely except with a mix of a little bad weather.” As far as the teachers are concerned, they will not walk away jobless, Weber claimed. “This is a great opportunity for DCPS to improve programs and to challenge Michelle Rhee to get feedback for schools,” he said. “Teachers can now focus on specialized enriched programs, which will be an asset to schools.”
Ximena F. Hartsock, translation assistant, states, “This proposal is about serving the children, not the buildings. The buildings are just the structure.”