Reasons Why DCPS Should Support, Not Close, Washington Met

[Ed. Note: Tomorrow, Tuesday February 4 at 11 am, the DC city council votes on emergency legislation (introduced by at large council member Robert White, along with Ward 1 council member Brianne Nadeau and Ward 8 council member Trayon White) to stop the closure of one of DCPS’s alternative high schools, Washington Metropolitan. The following helpful synopsis of why the closure is wrong is reprinted, with permission, from the online newsletter of Ward 1 state board of education member Emily Gasoi. To date, there has been no evidence presented to show that Wash Met’s students will do better if their school is closed–so NOW is the time to call council members to urge them to vote for this emergency legislation and give Wash Met students and their school a chance to succeed.]

by Emily Gasoi

Many of us–including 3 council members, the Washington Teachers Union, all 9 State Board of Education members, all ward-level education councils, other organizations and countless constituents–who have become informed in large part due to the tireless advocacy of Washington Met Students, strongly oppose this closure. If you’d like to review some reasons why we feel strongly that this is a harmful decision, below are points excerpted from some of the op-eds and letters urging the chancellor reverse his decision:

Washington Post Op-Ed by Washington Met counselor Brian Wheeler

* DCPS wants to blame Washington Met staff for failing to live up to unattainable goals; Washington Met staff will say the school was set up to fail and lacked the supportive resources from DCPS that other schools receive.
* Since 2013, Washington Met students have experienced the change of five principals in six years and DCPS has cut the school’s art classes, athletic programs, music and library.
* In 2017, as part of the mayor’s school mental-health expansion program, Washington Met was assessed and ranked as having the highest need in the city based on its high at-risk population. As 2020 approaches, Wash Met has yet to receive a social worker as part of the program.
* While DCPS can claim that under-enrollment is the cause, this perspective neglects decades of research that suggest smaller, attachment-based school relationships are extremely beneficial, especially to the most underserved populations.
* When you define school success with test scores, you overlook the stability that Washington Met brings and the importance of a home for a student’s psychological well-being.
* For many students, the feeling of care from staff is the starting point of recovery that brings them back to a sense of normalcy. When ready, many students who have intermittently poor attendance will have the space to recover and complete their academics while processing their various traumas and mental health.

Letter to the Chancellor and Deputy Mayor for Education from Ward 1 council member Brianne Nadeau

* Less than a year ago, DC government engaged in a heated debate around a different city-wide school located in Ward 1: Banneker Academic High School. The dialogue centered around equity, privilege, race and opportunity. The same issues are at play at Washington Metropolitan.
* Students come to Washington Metropolitan for many different reasons, and the small population allows for individualized attention and support, despite the lack of funding and resources that other opportunity schools have.
* Quantitative measures being used by DCPS to determine the need for closure do not fully capture the current situation at Washington Metropolitan. Metrics like enrollment and graduation rates must be considered with proper context.
* Wash Met is the only Opportunity Academy that includes middle school grades, with the 7th grade only recently having been added to the program. To close a school just a year after adding a 7th grade program appears irresponsible, or at the very least, signals a lack of thoughtful planning.
* Wash Met students have experienced a great deal of trauma in their lives. In order prevent further trauma, the most logical course of action would be to allow the existing students to finish the program and then close the program once all the students have graduated.
* This closing and the limited options available for these students is another setback for students who are already facing substantial challenges. The closing subjects each of them to uncertainty and takes away adults and a community they have come to depend on

Letter to Chancellor Ferebee from Senior High Alliance of Parents, Principals & Educators (SHAPPE) chair Cathy Reilly

* Chancellor Ferebee, you have the opportunity to pull this decision back and incorporate the challenges of the Wash Met student cohort and the Opportunity Academies into a larger DCPS education planning initiative that you can undertake as part of the strategic budget planning process underway.
* Chancellor, reversing this decision would send the signal that you heard the concerns on transparency and equity; that you value a partnership with the community and that you understand the absolute necessity of a plan. It would not leave another DCPS building vacant when there is so much need.

Letter to Chancellor Ferebee from the State Board of Education

* We are concerned that DCPS moved forward with its original proposal to close the school, despite nearly unanimous agreement among stakeholders that closing the school without amendment will be harmful to students and school personnel.
* It would appear that the reasons DCPS has given for the school’s proposed closure–underutilization of space, low levels of student achievement, low attendance rates, and under-enrollment—are directly attributable to DCPS’ inattention and withholding of needed resources.
* It is disturbing that DCPS would move to close a school serving one of the highest concentrations of at-risk students in the city before attempting to work with the community to bring resources and make needed improvements.
* Decades of research from closures across the country have shown that the short-term impacts on students of closed schools are negative, that low-income students and students of color face greater adverse effects from closures, and the impacts can be long-lasting for the communities in which they serve.
* For the population of students at Washington Met, this closure is even more significant because they have already left other schools where they did not feel they belonged or that did not provide the environment necessary for both their unique academic and non-academic needs.

[Ed Note: Adding in here the excellent letter to the chancellor from Ward 8 council member Trayon White, which distills these points and asks that the decision to close the school be re-examined. Also adding in the great testimony by Caitlin Cocilova of the Washington Legal Clinic, outlining the human costs of the decision to close the school and aligning it with efforts to displace the poor from communities and resources they need, including housing.]

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