School Closed So Air Force Base Can Remain Open
TUSD final vote is to close Keen Elementary
Keen Elementary will not reopen this fall. That is the final word from the TUSD governing board, which voted 3-2 last night, for a second time, to close the school because it is in the flight pattern of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.
It may not, however, be the end of the story.
Southern Arizona Legal Aid sent a letter Friday to board members saying closing the school would violate the constitutional rights of the mostly minority students at Keen, 3538 E. Ellington Place. Legal Aid said it would file an administrative complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights seeking a reversal of the closure.
Legal Aid represents Maria Santizo and her son Emanuel, who just completed kindergarten at Keen, and Alba Botello and her daughter Karina Dominguez, who just finished first grade there.
The letter stated, among other complaints, that Keen children who have to go to other schools will suffer because they will be bused instead of being able to walk; their ability to participate in after-school programs will be limited; and their parents' ability to walk them to school or to get to the school to volunteer or attend parent-teacher conferences will be limited.
Since Keen is a year-round school, and the three schools that its students will be transferred to are not, "parents ... would be forced to arrange for child care and recreational activities during the summers, which can be quite expensive and extremely disruptive," the letter, written by attorney and Legal Aid Executive Director Thomas Berning, said.
He also said the average class size at Keen - 14 - is lower than the other schools: Duffy Elementary, 17; Kellond, 22; and Dietz, 19.
"If Emanuel Santizo and Karina Dominguez and their classmates are in danger at Keen, then they are equally in peril in their homes, yards, in the streets around their neighborhood, at the grocery stores, in their school buses and waiting for those buses, and in the day-care centers they may be forced into if they must go from their extended year school to one of the other schools," the letter said.
After the vote, Santizo, through an interpreter, said the issue was racially discriminatory and not based on safety.
Socorro Muñoz, who has two children at Keen, also used an interpreter to say: "I don't think they would have closed it if it were not a school of Hispanic students."
Interim Superintendent Roger Pfeuffer said although it was difficult to recommend closure, "it ultimately was based on safety. There is a big difference in parents deciding to buy a home in the area and a school district placing a school in the area or continuing in an area we know has safety issues."
Board member Adelita Grijalva, who voted against the closure, said she was concerned the schools the Keen students would be transferred to didn't have many Spanish-speaking employees. Only one, Duffy, has a principal and office manager who speak Spanish. The other two are limited to a few employees, including cafeteria workers, a custodian, a computer instructor, a community representative and one teacher, she said.
"These are very involved parents," she said. "We must make sure they feel a part of these new schools ... and the schools have to be able to communicate with parents about what's happening with their students."
Board member Bruce Burke sympathized, but said the school had to close. "We have a school in a potential site where there could be a catastrophe and we have the issue of a base closure," he said.
Clerk Judy Burns said TUSD has been asked by everyone from the governor and mayor to base and community leaders to close the school for safety reasons and because it could contribute to the closing of Davis-Monthan in the next congressionally mandated round of base closures, which would mean a loss of $1 billion a year to the community and state.
"I wish the governor, mayor and business leaders had gotten together to see how they could help ... this neighborhood," Burns said. "I wish they could have offered help to build a new school in the neighborhood but not in the flight pattern."
Burns voted against the closure.
TUSD voted last fall to close Keen, but because of a technicality - the full school board wasn't at a public hearing on the closure - another hearing was held June 4.
received via the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom listserv