Group ‘tailgates’ Columbus City school board meeting, calls for pause in closure plan

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Groups in favor of pausing the Columbus City Schools building closure process “tailgated” Tuesday outside the board meeting while central Ohio pastors held a separate event praying for the district’s students, teachers, and administrators.

Speakers at the tailgate addressed the school board, with many members of the public urging the board not to close Cranbrook Elementary and other schools with strong English Language Learning programs.

Last month, the Superintendent’s Community Facilities Task Force presented a plan that included the possibility of closing up to 20 of Columbus’s more than 110 school buildings under nine different recommended scenarios.

Although there are nine proposals, some are alternates of each other and the Board of Education may or may not approve any or all of them. Over a number of meetings earlier this year, the task force considered factors such as building utilization, or how full a building is, transportation data and whether a building has been aging without substantial renovation, The Dispatch previously reported.

Here’s the latest from Tuesday’s meeting and the school closing discussion:

Dozens gather for ‘tailgate’ to pause school closure process

Dozens of parents, Columbus City school teachers and activists gathered Thursday for the parking lot tailgate and free food, and children also made signs and artwork. The event was organized by All in for Ohio Kids, a statewide organization that partners with parents in local school districts.

Katelyn Jackson, organizer for the All In group, said the message of the event was that the school board needs to pause the school closing process.

The idea for the event event was first floated by a member of the public at the last board meeting in May, who addressed the waiting meeting crowd while the board was in executive session.

“It doesn’t feel like the plan reflects what we hear parents want for their schools,” Jackson said.

A man wears a T-shirt for the Columbus Education Justice Coalition on Tuesday during a tailgate gathering including a potluck meal and sign-making before the Columbus City Schools Board of Education meeting at the district's administrative building on South High Street.

Susan Cavendish, a parent of a student about to start first grade at West Broad Elementary School at 2744 W. Broad St., which is suggested for closure, said she thinks the board needs to “take a moment and actually acquire community feedback.” Cavendish, who is physically disabled, said closing West Broad Elementary would impact her ability to get her child to school every day.

“It just feels like a show,” Cavendish said. “I do not think there is any reason they cannot pause just a little bit to wait to close 20 schools — even if they do ultimately close them. There is no harm in them just waiting.”

Central Ohio faith leaders pray for school district

Community faith leaders held a prayer circle Tuesday before the Columbus City Schools Board of Education meeting at the district's south administrative building.

Local faith leaders also held a “pastors praying for Columbus City Schools” event in the parking lot before the board meeting, where they prayed for unity and wisdom from district officials in the closure process. The pastors were joined by school board members and Superintendent Angela Chapman.

Rev. Kevin Hairston, pastor of Living Word Bible Fellowship and a member of the facilities task force, said one of the purposes of the prayer circle was to pray that God gives district officials “the wisdom and knowledge to make the decisions they need to make.”

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“We believe that God has your back at the end of the day, and that there’s no division,” Hairston said. “We don’t believe in division, we believe in unity.”

He also said the prayer circle wasn’t about politics, but about the prosperity of the community and “the seed of academic success inside our students.”

“This isn’t any type of political endorsement,” Hairston said. “This isn’t whether you’re on one side of the fence or the other side of the fence. This is us believing in God, and and believing in God for our school district and believing in God for the decisions that decision-makers have to make.”

Columbus City Schools Superintendent Angela Chapman is moved to tears during a prayer circle held by community faith leaders Tuesday before the Board of Education meeting.

Parents: Don’t close English language learning program schools

During the public comment portion of the board meeting, many parents and teachers from Cranbrook Elementary and other schools with a high English Language Learning population spoke, saying they were concerned for students learning English if they were closed as proposed.

At Cranbrook Elementary, for example, 58% of the 268 students are in an English Language Learning program, according to Ohio Department of Education data.

Amber Nash, a CCS teacher and parent of a Cranbrook student, said the staff at the school excel in offering a multicultural education, and closing the school would damage the students at the school. She said the proposal to close the school was “shortsighted and ignores the needs of the students and communities.”

“New American and refugee communities will be further harmed by being separated from the staff and school that has become their second home,” Nash