The Push to Close Langston Hughes Elementary School in Park Heights Baltimore Leaves Community Skeptical of the Motives


Here lies public education

“Freddie Gray was about education.”

“We teach our kids how to add, but they need to learn social skills…and life skills”

“They want to close our school down and send our kids into a drug infested neighorhood…why?”

“So here we go”

These statements were spoken at a school-closing meeting about Langston Hughes Elementary School. The school is slated for closure by 2015. The community is fighting back to keep their public school. Langston Hughes Action Committee, a neighborhood group, has appealed the school board’s decision.

So let’s back track to see how we got were.

The School:

Langston Hughes Elementary is the best performing school in Park Heights (a Baltimore City neighborhood). It has the highest academic achievement rating of all the neighboring schools. The community loves this school. They see it as a corner stone of their neighborhood. It has a sound and well maintained infrastructure including a full size cafeteria and a playground. Generations of community members have attended this school. For the last ten years Langston Hughes has been home to approximately 220 students grades k-5.

What Will Happen to the Children if They Close the School?

The school they want to send them to is a lower performing one in neighboring Pimlico Elementary Middle School which was built in 1910 and has problems with overcrowded classrooms, lead paint and asbestos. Pimlico is scheduled for the first round of renovations under the 21st Century Schools Plan. This move means that even more neighborhood students would endure several years of lead and asbestos abatement and renovations.

Children as young as six or seven would have to walk about one mile to Pimlico through a high crime, high drug, and high traffic area to get to school every day. Then once they’re at school, they’ll spend every day exposed to toxic chemicals that will create permanent developmental and health problems.

Pimlico has lost over 100 students in the last few years—Langston Hughes is in better condition than Pimlico and has a better reputation.

How is this Possible?

When the school commissioners accepted a challenge to visit the school, many didn’t even know where the school was. The school board members do not reflect the demographic of the community. They were surprised at how well kept it was. They declined to take the walk from Langston Hughes to Pimlico. Despite a positive impression, they voted for closure anyway. School system representatives have also stated they have no need to talk to parents. They have any right to close any school they want without talking to anyone.

There is a $1.1 billion school construction budget for Baltimore city schools. Part of this budget includes mandated closure of 26 schools. As a result, communities are pitted against each other to save their schools. The Langston Hughes building is the only school in the major redevelopment area. It’s pretty clear to members of the Park Heights neighborhood that the plan for this community is gentrification—it starts with school closings. The school is clearly on a list of schools that charters are allowed to move into, which seems to be contrary to what Dr. Thornton told Helen Atkinson of the Teachers Democracy Project at a board meeting. Leaders of the Park Heights community have been informed verbally and by email that a charter school would like to use the building.

There are 8 COMAR regulations regarding closing schools—they are using 1 to justify this closure—low school enrollment. In 2011, rumors began about the possible school closures and as a result parents began moving their children to other schools, creating the low enrollment conditions necessary to justify the closure

Enrollment in 2013 was 217 students. Projected enrollment for 2013-14 was 229 students, but only 156 students signed up, according to school documents.However, according to community members, “as soon as the people found out the school wasn’t closing enrollment went back up.” Additionally, its kindergarten is currently at capacity.

This announcement of this closing happened at the end of last school year making it difficult for the school to organize any kind of response. There are 38 charter schools in Baltimore city right now and there is a push from Governor Hogan to increase this number. Hogan believes that expanding charter schools is “a great idea.” I am unsure how that could possibly be the case for Park Heights. Unless of course you are a developer.

The major re-vitalization of Pimlico race track has everything to do with this. Langston Hughes is the only school in the redevelopment zone. There is 125 mill in investment into Pimlico race track. 5 ½ million dollars have been allocated to Park Heights. This year they are getting 4 ½ million dollars—it’s the only community to get its slots revenue. Park heights HAS money-but the question is who is holding the money for Park Heights? One community advocate says, “Ask Park Heights Renaissance! Most of the funds are with housing being used for acquisition and relocation of the members out of the redevelopment area.”

This is strategically planned. To ensure that Langston Hughes closure could be “justified” they took the school’s budget away immediately—starting to dismantle the school. Even if the community wins the appeal it will be a hard slog to get the staff back in place and to recoup the loss of equipment and materials already removed. The community can demand the school go back to its previous status. The judge will decide to 1. Dismiss the appeal (in which case the city can proceed with closure) 2. Send the appeal to trial.

What Can We Do to Save Langston Hughes?

Call 410 396-8803— tell them you don’t want the school to close down Tell Dr. Burn, “I do not want Langston Hughes to close down.”

A school board meeting was held on May 12th to protest against the closure. This past week, the Administrative Law Judge ruled in our favor  in the appeal against school board and proposed closing of LANGSTON HUGHES Elementary school. A trial is set for June 20 at 9:30 am.

Continue to call 410-396-8803 to say Don’t close LANGSTON HUGHES call 24/7 you don’t have to leave your name.

Join us on a walk on May 15th and again on May 20th from Langston Hughes to Pimlico Elementary Middle and see for yourself what we are expecting our children to walk through.

The appeal regarding whether to send this case to trial will be decided on May 12th.

Next steps:

Baltimore Algebra Project advocates for community control of schools. We need to protest we are not accepting these results. The Teachers’ Democracy Project, the Baltimore NAACP and Maryland Refuse are also in support of future actions including public protest in collaboration with community leaders.

One looming question remains: Even if they win the appeal how does the community make sure that they are not in the same space facing this again? Advocates are asking, “How do we put ourselves in position so we cannot be put out again in the future?”

Join the Langston Hughes Community Action Facebook site.

Another question raised was “How do we engage young children in this?”

Advocates plan to protest whether or not the judge weighs in our favor in order to bring continuous pressure until the school is returned to community control.

Some Final Word from Community Advocates:

“My fight is for the education of our kids.”

“Every child is a dollar bill as opposed to a human being.”

Fight like we never fight before.”

Published by educationalchemy

Morna McDermott has been an educator for over twenty years in both k-12 and post secondary classrooms. She received her doctorate in education, with a dissertation focus on arts-based educational research, from The University of Virginia in 2001. Morna's teaching, scholarship, and activism center around the ways in which creativity, art, social justice, and democracy can transform education and empower communities. She is currently a Professor of Education at Towson University.

One thought on “The Push to Close Langston Hughes Elementary School in Park Heights Baltimore Leaves Community Skeptical of the Motives

  1. Does anyone know what happened with the Maryland ACLU and the Maryland’s Education Reform Project. They are the ones who got the money promised for school renovation, but I see now that they are part of the BEC, a seemingly pro charter org. and allowed for 26 schools to be slated for closure in the agreement for the renovation money. So what is going on?

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