By Molly Davis Staff Writer
Posted: 02/02/2011 08:03:59 PM PST
YUCAIPA – Parents of students at Yucaipa Elementary School may have to bear it, but they don’t have to grin.
As Yucaipa-Calimesa Joint Unified School District officials defend the decision to close the 100-year-old school, parents are angry and saddened.
“I feel that they ruined every student’s lives,” PTA President Crystal Peterson said. “I feel like (the students at Yucaipa Elementary) are all my kids, and (the district) ruined all my kids’ lives.”
At the Dec. 14 school board meeting, the board unanimously agreed to close the school, due to severe budget cuts.
The school, which celebrated its centennial last week, was chosen for closure based on a number of factors, the district said. Age, enrollment, operational costs and low academic performance scores decided the school’s fate.
For at least three years, the school has failed to meet the federal standards in the No Child Left Behind Act, Superintendent Sherry Kendrick said, and has trailed behind other elementary schools in the district.
“This is not to say that teachers haven’t worked hard,” Kendrick said.
The decision to close the school was based on criteria from the Department of Education, Melissa Moore, assistant superintendent of human resources, said in an e-mail.
She added that the school’s negative status as a Program Improvement Year Three school was a significant issue that helped the district in the decision.
The district presented a Power Point presentation at the Nov. 30 school board meeting to illustrate the reasons why the campus was chosen over other schools to be close.
Kendrick said there were parents at the meeting who complained that they were unaware the school was underperforming.
“I’m sorry, but that’s head-in-the sand attitude,” Kendrick said. “Frankly, we haven’t had a lot of parent participation at a lot of the schools.”
While enrollment at the school was not as low as Dunlap Elementary School, which was also considered for closure, the percentage of decline was slightly higher, at 27.24 percent since the 2005-06 school year. Dunlap’s enrollment declined 24percent for the same period.
Age was also considered to be a factor,because Yucaipa Elementary’s oldest building dates back to 1939 while Dunlap was built in 1953.
However, historian Bob Rippy said that only one building at Yucaipa Elementary, the auditorium, was built in 1939. The majority of the school’s current buildings were constructed in the mid-1950s, Rippy said.
Kendrick disagreed with allegations that parents weren’t notified in a timely manner or the same way.
She said that the sheets of paper notifying parents of the closure were in English and Spanish and that interpretation was available.
She also said that Spanish-speakers were given a choice of being in the same room to hear the English version of the board’s budget presentation, and they chose to be in separate room, with an interpreter.
“Some have accused us of divide and conquer, but that wasn’t the case,” Kendrick said.
Board member Chuck Christie added that the hearings were translated for Spanish-speakers, and that the community was notified as effectively as the district could have done.
But parents disagree.
“(The closure) was sprung on us,” Peterson said, adding that the PTA tried to protest the closure.
“We (hung) signs on the school which said `Y.E.S. SOS’, meaning `Save Our Students.”‘ Parents were told to remove the signs from “district property,” Peterson said.
PTA member Melissa Ochoa agreed with Peterson, saying the district was “pretty sneaky.”
Ochoa said parents were only given two weeks’ notice of the closure notification meeting, adding that the meeting was “basically a waste of time” because there was nothing parents could do.
The issue of transportation is another sensitive issue for the parents at Yucaipa Elementary. The district has already eliminated busing for students, as a way to deal with state cuts. Parents are responsible for getting their children to school.
“A lot of parents don’t have cars,” said Ochoa. “(Transportation) is a major issue.”
Yucaipa Mayor Dick Riddell sympathized with the parents, saying, “It’s not in a real affluent area. Most of the students walk to school. … It’s quite an inconvenience” to parents, who will now have to look at transportation alternatives.
Kendrick praised the school’s efforts to make transitions as easy as possible.
“Staff, while saddened, has been remarkably understanding,” Kendrick said.
In the meantime, a boundary meeting, set for Feb. 8, will decide where the school’s students will be going next year.
“I’m in a limbo right now,” said Ochoa, who was unsure of where her daughter, Chyanna, 8, would go next year. “Parents are talking about taking kids out (of the district) and doing home school.”
Peterson is one such parent doing just that.
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