Seattle Public Schools are struggling to deal with a crisis of overcrowding, as enrollment continues to grow by about 1,000 students every year—roughly equivalent to the capacity of two large elementary schools! And while our priority, of course, should be on finding constructive solutions, it would also be useful if those responsible for instigating, executing, and cheerleading the district’s recent rounds of disastrously stupid school closures might own up to their errors and issue a public apology, if only to help us learn from our mistakes. I’m talking about the school board members, district administrators, civic leaders, city council members, and state legislators, past and present, who collaborated on the closure process. And yes, I’m also looking at you, Seattle Times.
The case for closing schools was always flimsy. As I wrote back in 2006, when my daughter’s school was on the chopping block:
I remain convinced that the entire closure process is flawed… that the CAC had neither the time, the resources, the data or the expertise to make such profound decisions, and that the district has failed to provide reliable data on demographics, enrollment projections, first-choice ranking, and estimated savings.
My daughter’s school, Graham Hill Elementary, was saved, I believe, largely because we were lucky to have a team of parents available with the specialized skills necessary to make the case to save it: An attorney, a civil engineer, two journalists, and most importantly, a forensic accountant. Together, we had the skill set to dig up the appropriate data, analyze it, frame it, publicize it, and threaten the district with legal consequences. We had uncovered demographic data that strongly challenged the district’s projections—data that suggested that the many housing developments then underway in Southeast Seattle (New Holly, Othello Station, Rainier Vista, etc.) would soon result in a substantial uptick in enrollment in the quadrant. And if the data was so flawed in regards to our school, we asked, how could we trust the data supporting closure of the other schools on the list?
We ultimately saved our school, but the process was brutal, and we could find no newspaper columnist or editorialist willing to question the underlying assumptions behind school closures. The “serious people” accused us of being cranks and NIMBYs—or even worse. The late Cheryl Chow, then a school board member, scheduled a midday meeting with our PTA, and then scanning the room of mostly white women (you know, the people who could afford to attend a PTA meeting at a Southend school in the middle of a work day), all but accused us of being a bunch of racists.
It was heart breaking. Years before, the one clause that I had written into my divorce agreement was that my daughter stay at Graham Hill. That’s how much we loved that school. But when her mother moved to Mercer Island before the start of 5th grade (partially in disgust over the closure process), I let my daughter switch districts without a fight. I haven’t attended a PTA meeting since.
I’m not asking for a personal apology. But as our news media and “opinion leaders” continue to cover and comment on overcrowding in our schools, it might be nice of them to mention their own complicity in this crisis. They were the ones who perpetrated the meme of an inefficient district wasting money on half-empty schools. They were the ones who egged the closure process on, and who not only refused to even question the data on which it was based, dismissively rolled their eyes at those of us who did. And it’s past time they acknowledged their role in fomenting this costly mistake.
At least that way, the next time they publish an editorial touting charter schools or common core or tougher testing regimes as the answer—or God forbid eliminating an elected school board and placing control of the district solely in the hands of Seattle’s mayor (you know, just because)—readers will be able to comfortably conclude, armed with knowledge their prior failures, that “the serious people” clearly don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about.