The 4J School Board gave little indication tonight, Feb. 13, that they would alter the recommendation of Superintendent George Russell to force the poor, largely Latino children out of a neighborhood elementary school in South Eugene to give the building to whiter, and wealthier alternative school children.
Russell recommended last week to close Harris neighborhood elementary and give its building to the Eastside and Charlemagne alternative schools. Harris is 67 percent free and reduced lunch while Eastside is 5 percent and the Charlemagne French Immersion school is 10 percent. Harris is 25 percent Latino while Eastside and Charlemagne are both 1 percent Latino.
Kristen Larson, a parent of three Harris children, told the board that the decision to close Harris for the alternative schools was “basic discrimination against the lower income families.” Larsen said, “if you support these recommendations, shame on you.”
But not a single board member gave clear indication that they did not.
School Board Member Charles Martinez did question how it was decided that the alternative schools would have an “immunization from closure” during the district’s “Schools of the Future” process to consolidate schools due to declining enrollment and supposedly reduce inequities. “I don’t think that’s consistent with board direction.”
Russell admitted that school board minutes clearly show that closing an alternative school should be “open for consideration.”
So why didn’t Russell recommend closing an alternative schools to boost enrollment at neighborhood schools?
Russell said if the board directed him to close the alternative schools, “I’m happy to do that.” But he said it was his impression that the board had eliminated that option. “I felt that was not really on the table in light of the decisions that had been made previously.”
An Eastside parent testified to the board reading a statement from her school’s parent group thanking the superintendent for giving the Harris building to them. “Our community appreciates and supports George Russell’s recommendation.”
In other news, Russell said that unlike every other school, Charlemagne students would be immune from his recommendation to limit transfers to Roosevelt Middle School and South Eugene High School. The French immersion students would be given automatic places at the two popular schools even if they did not reside in the appropriate school boundary.