Parents at soon-to-be-closed Pease Elementary are again frustrated at Austin ISD leaders after the district revoked student transfers for next year from Pease to campuses that had already reached their maximum capacity for enrollment.
Shortly after AISD's board of trustees voted in November to close four elementary schools, district staff began working with the Pease school community – the most active and vocal in opposing the School Changes plan – to ensure a smooth transition for its students, all of whom are already transfers from other schools and now need to choose new campuses to finish out their primary education. That outreach included a meeting with district staff and parents on Dec. 10, where the district assured Pease families they would be able to transfer their children to the schools of their choice.
Early on, the plan had been to "co-locate" Pease students at Zavala Elementary, an underenrolled Eastside school about 2.5 miles away from Pease, which is west of I-35. It was clear the Pease parents were not thrilled with that idea; most send their kids to Pease because they work Downtown, and the campus's location near 12th and Lamar makes it easier for them to be involved in the school community. Zavala may not be that far from Pease, but getting across Downtown in rush hour traffic would be a pain, they said.
At the Dec. 10 meeting, parents received "transfer intent forms" to help AISD plan for where families want to send their children, and an idea was presented by a high-ranking AISD staffer (it's unclear who): If enough parents were interested, the district would be able to accommodate staffing at Mathews Elementary for a new cohort of students.
What AISD staff didn't anticipate is how concentrated parents' interest would be in just a few campuses. Of the 157 intent forms AISD received, 121 were for either Mathews, Bryker Woods, or Lee elementaries. Mathews is the closest campus to Pease (just 1 mile away) and, having been pitched by staff, it made sense that 90 families selected that school as their first choice. But Bryker Woods and Lee – 15 and 16 requests respectively – are about the same distance from Pease, as is Zavala. All three schools favored by Pease parents have at least a plurality of white students, as does Pease, and have far fewer students from low-income families than the district average; at Zavala, 93% of the students are considered "economically disadvantaged."
On Dec. 12, two days after parents were told they could transfer their children to the school of their choice, AISD released the list of schools (approved by the trustees) that were frozen to transfers for the 2020-21 school year – including Mathews and Lee. The board's transfer policy allows for few exceptions when applying to frozen schools; moving from a school set for closure is not one of them. (The Pease children can, of course, also attend the schools serving the neighborhoods where they live.)
At a Feb. 10 board work session, some trustees fumed at staff for granting transfers to Pease families, which they saw as circumventing the board's ultimate authority on transfer policies. "Sitting here listening to the [justification for transfers] literally angers me," said trustee LaTisha Anderson. Eleven days later, on Feb. 21, Pease parents got word from AISD that their transfers were revoked, the Mathews expansion isn't happening, and staff's assurances were mistaken.
In a statement, AISD's associate superintendent overseeing elementary schools, Gilbert Hicks, said, "We are working with families on a one-on-one basis to identify the best solution for each student. While we understand that this is a difficult situation, we are committed to providing excellent educational opportunities for all students, including those who are impacted by school closures or consolidations." The district is providing "multitiered counseling" to parents and students affected by the revocations. "We have worked closely with families to review options and select educational opportunities that best fit each child," Hicks said. "We will continue supporting these families as we honor the legacy of Pease Elementary School and as students enroll in new campus communities next year."
Copyright © 2022 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.