Seattle Courant

Hundreds Rally To Stop Seattle School Closures

Amber Croyle at T. T. Minor Elementary School. Photo By Acacia Jackson
By Keith Vance
January 26, 2009 12:01AM

While proponents are claiming the school closures are necessary to bridge a district budget gap, many of the people who came out today believed that race was a factor in deciding which schools to close.

Several people spoke to the crowd in the community center gymnasium in opposition to shuttering the African American Academy, Cooper Elementary, Meany Middle School, T. T. Minor Elementary and Summit K-12. The master of ceremony, Jesse Hagopian is the founding member of ESP Vision, an organization created to stop this school closure plan.

"Look at the schools they're closing," he told the crowd. "Why are they attacking these students of color and low income?"

Rickie Malone, an African American Academy founder, said, "My heart is heavy. Why us?"

DaZanne Porter, also from the African American Academy, didn't mince words. "The school closure plan is racist."

Earlier this month, when the plan was announced, Seattle Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson told KUOW radio, "We're at a point right now where we don't have a lot of flexibility, and so we have to make the best decision we can for students, and so that's exactly what we did."

None of the speakers today, including Andre Helmstetter, 43, was buying it.

Helmstetter, T. T. Minor P.T.S.A. Vice President, defended his daughter's school, which he said has had its good times and bad, but now, "the feeling of progress is tangible. It’s an example of what can happen when the right moves are made"

Helmstetter then pointed his outrage at Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson, an African American appointed by the School Board in 2007.

"It's good to see Goodloe crashing through the glass ceiling," Helmstetter said. "It's unfortunate the shards are falling on our children's heads."

He ended his speech with a crowd chant.

"They say closures! We say no! Goodloe-Johnson has got to go!"

But many see the closures as an issue of priorities.

"If you don't have money for schools, what do you have money for?" Amber Croyle said. Croyle, 27, works with a coalition opposing the school closures called Umoja Fest Peace Center.

Larry Evans, 55, a parent of a T. T. Minor student, echoed her concern.

"Is education more important than a tunnel?" Evans was referring to the recent plan by Mayor Greg Nickels to replace the Alaska Way Viaduct with a tunnel.

"There's plenty of money for our children," Hagopian said. "It's just spent wrong."

He said the Board is treating schools like a business, closing those it deems as unprofitable.

"We're here to say that our schools are not a business," he said. "These are public schools. These are our children."

He urged the crowd to send email and to call the Seattle School Board members.

"We need to let the Board know that anybody who votes for this plan will be voted out," Hagopian said.

There is still optimism that the Board will reject the closure plan.

"I hope," Croyle said, "that they realize they're being silly."

The Board is expected to vote on the school closure plan this Thursday at 6 p.m. at the John Stanford Center for Educational Excellence (2445 3rd Ave. S.).

Woman and child march to Garfield Community Center. Photo By Acacia Jackson
Face painting at Garfield Community Center. Photo By Acacia Jackson