Shaw vs. Banneker: Community Debates Which School Deserves ‘New’ Building

D.C. Council members, mayors and residents at odds over space on Rhode Island Avenue.

The former Shaw Junior High School is at the center of a controversy over who should occupy the building. Photo by Ted Eytan/Creative Commons

Controversy is stirring as the deadline nears for the D.C. Council to vote on whether it will reopen a building on Rhode Island Avenue Northwest for Shaw Middle School or use the building for the relocation of Banneker High School.

When Shaw Middle School was open at the old Garnet-Patterson site, it housed students from fairly large schools such as Seaton Elementary and Cleveland Elementary. Many students who would have been zoned for Shaw about a decade ago have been reassigned to the Cardozo Education Campus. This has caused an uproar for some families, because Cardozo is farther away and services seven different grade levels (6th to 12th), which makes it more challenging to provide the direct support of a typical middle school.

Since the original closing of Shaw Junior High School in 2008, D.C. Council has promised that it would devise a plan to bring back a middle school to the community. Despite verbal reassurances, the council closed the case on its promise to replace Shaw Middle School in 2013.

“DCPS has been closing schools like Shaw and Garnet-Patterson for years and just lumping the students of color into other schools, never looking at the cultural impact,” said Devin Hamilton, a certified behavioral specialist for D.C. Public Schools. “This is not new. Only the demographic is.”

Some parents want D.C. Council members to keep a promise for a new middle school in Shaw. Photo by Alexandra Simbana

Hamilton emphasized how important it is that Shaw be prioritized and that the decade-long promise for renovations be fulfilled. She also noted how continuing to prolong the reopening of Shaw only shows the community the political and economic interests of D.C. Council.

The future of Shaw Middle School has become even more of a hot topic on the agenda of D.C. Council. Gentrification in the Shaw-Howard community has brought in a significant number of young, educated, middle-class families who are demanding that their students have a school that is local and targeted specifically to address their academic and social needs.

“The community outcry is surprising considering the new demographic,” said Virginia Thomas, a D.C. native who teaches at Cleveland Elementary. “When Shaw Middle School was in the news regarding its initial closing, nobody cared. The people protesting at the Wilson building now, could care less about the black and brown kids Shaw Middle School meant the world to.”

While some community members fight for the long overdue opening of Shaw Middle School, others want the empty building in the 900 block of Rhode Island Avenue to be granted to Banneker, one of the highest performing high schools in the District. Banneker students have long reported challenges with the infrastructure of the building, which was built in 1981. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser proposed that the Rhode Island site be allotted to Banneker.

While D.C. Council has noted that the Banneker building is indeed in need of repairs and promised to have a new location by the year 2021, the council still voted against the mayor’s proposal to move Banneker’s campus to Rhode Island Avenue. The debate of which school should get the building has sparked community outrage along with many protests and demonstrations.

Thomas suggests an alternative that offers a solution to both sides. She recommends that Banneker High School be relocated to the old Shaw Junior High School once it is renovated to gain space necessary for the expected increase in enrollment over the next few years.

She also believes that the budget has room for more than just one school renovation. With this money, she proposes that following Banneker’s move to Rhode Island, its old building on Euclid Avenue could be renovated to accommodate Shaw. She stressed the importance of a middle school closer to Shaw’s previous feeder schools, while easing the overcrowding at the Cardozo Education Campus, which has been accommodating most of the middle and high school students in the Shaw community.

Bilal Muhammad, 5, a student at one of Shaw’s previous feeder schools, spoke about how important it was for him to join the conversation. “I wanted to go to the Wilson Building,” Muhammad said. “When I went, I went to talk to the man about opening the school again, because when I go to middle school I do not want all of my friends to be separated.”

Students and parents protested inside the Wilson Building on May 24, also expressing their concerns for students being separated if there is no localized middle school in the area. Meanwhile, Banneker students emphasized that their needs are important. Despite being a top performer in the District, their school often lacks a seat at the table when it comes to resource allocation, they added. The students even shouted accusations that their school’s needs are not being taken into consideration, because they do not look like those now fighting for Shaw Middle School.

“This is why civil engagement is so important,” Thomas said. “It gives our kids a voice and a say.”



D.C. Council decided Banneker will move to the building on Rhode Island Avenue in a vote on May 28. Shaw Middle School will reopen at Banneker’s current location on Euclid Street, pending renovations.

Mayor Muriel Bowser has stated that Banneker can be expected to be relocated by 2021, although the start dates for both renovations are unknown.