The Aftermath of School Closure
Community members often point to the aftermath of school closures as a reason for school districts to be cautious when they make the decision to close a school. School closure, even when neatly rolled out, can cause a slew of pragmatic problems for students, their families, and educators. It is not an easy feat for families to find new transportation routes for children to get to school and establish new schedules after their own nearby school is closed, for instance. Beyond the logistical problems that emerge after a school closure, many parents and students notice that transitioning to a new school can be emotionally taxing; school closures often cause emotional distress for kids as changing schools often means ending long-standing relationships and facing the challenges that occur when entering a new social dynamic.
Furthermore, community members point out that the relationships forged through a shared connection to a school are disrupted when a school is closed. Oftentimes many members of a community have attended their neighborhood school and due to this widely shared experience, schools can become a unifying element of a neighborhood’s culture and identity. School closures sever the intergenerational bonds that can come about due to community members of different ages having had the experience of attending events or being a student in a neighborhood school.
Even with the best intentions, school closures are disruptive to the daily routines of educators, parents, and students. Over time, people develop a sense of when to leave their home, how bad traffic will be on the way to school, what types of transportation options are available to attend the school, and so on. As one parent put it, “School closure makes me think about, with the change in location, how that would affect a lot of families in how to get kids to school and how to get kids to school on time – how is that going to work out? And if you know if they have to catch a bus somewhere, how much earlier do they have to wake up?” Not knowing how things will work out in the wake of a school closure can be quite stressful for both parents and their children. One alum expressed their concern about the impact of school closure saying, “I think if we’re not cautious transitioning could be traumatic for children most definitely. How does that affect our morning routine? How far could this new school be? If I was a parent how would that affect me and how I make sure my child gets to school, what do I have to change about my schedule at work or something like that? How does it affect my child mentally because that would affect me mentally as well?” Another alum echoed this sentiment noting that, “having to drive 30 minutes anywhere is going to be a pain for any kid, or having to take the bus for an hour beforehand, that is just very difficult for kids. It kind of stifles motivation when you have to travel long distances to go anywhere.” Some felt that despite having little decision-making power concerning school closures, community members are forced to bear the brunt of the difficulties after the decision to close a school has been made. One father noted for instance that “If they’re concerned about the financial side to it government-wise, what about the community’s financial needs?”
The emotional toll school closures take on communities begins well before a decision to close the school is made. School closures do not materialize out of nowhere and those involved with the school often have to wrestle with the possibility of closure long before any formal decision-making process begins. One parent noted that as soon as the conversation about the possibility of school closure began to circulate, people’s attitudes toward the school became increasingly negative. This turn was especially difficult for teachers who had to carry the additional emotional burdens of dealing with a looming closure while still performing their regular job duties. As the parent describes it, “As soon as that word school closure comes up, people start focusing on the negatives and people start leaving and resources start leaving and teachers have to leave because they don’t know if they’ll have a contract even if they want to stay. And staying gets harder and harder and people still are there and still want their community but the longer that process goes on the harder and harder it is to keep working hard and raising the bar because you just feel like you’re left behind.”
A current student at Whittier noted that becoming aware of her school’s impending closure was quite hard on her and many of her classmates. As she put it, “When we found out, when Miss Jane told us, almost everybody cried except for Samantha and Trevor because they’ve been through it before and some of us hadn’t been through that before so we cried because we didn’t expect that to happen.” In the case of teachers, in addition to dealing with the emotional turmoil, they must also deal with the immediacy of their employment situation. Through these conversations it became clear that teachers are largely left unsure about how an impending closure will affect their professional trajectory. Being a full-time teacher is already a time-intensive occupation and adding the need to navigate their next steps after closure while also experiencing the emotional turmoil of school closure can be overwhelming and frustrating.
Another community member noted that being a student in an environment like that can be especially difficult. Several students for instance noted that knowing their school was going to close made them sad because they had grown an attachment to the school they had attended for several years. One young adult noted that they had such a hard time losing an arts program in their school when they were a young student but could only imagine how hard it would be to lose an entire school as a kid. As they put it, “I just couldn’t imagine losing an entire school, especially at a young age. I was in Cherry Creek School District (CCSD) so we were very blessed to not have to think about anything remotely like this which is another thing that’s hard to think about like, there are kids that have to go through this in 5th and 6th grade and this wasn’t even on my radar- I was just going to school every day.”
One father noted that he believed that school closures can really harm a student’s mental health and had personally seen how difficult it had been for his brother to transition to a new school after a closure. In light of this experience, the notion of a school closure makes him concerned about the impact it may have on his daughter. As he put it,” I have a daughter so when I think about it’s like- most importantly how this is going to affect the kid, that’s physically and emotionally. Taking a kid from a group of friends, teachers, or neighborhood, placing them somewhere else. In that transition, how are they going to adapt? How are they going to feel? It’s a whole thing, They have to relearn everything.”
Loss of Community Pillar
There is a legacy aspect of having attended a school that has long existed in a neighborhood, and closing a school has the consequence of disrupting the continuity of that legacy. As one DPS alum put it,
“I feel a connection, I was always proud to go to a certain school because my mom or cousin went there. So I mean it’s something where they have to get more strategic and hold community meetings to see how people think and how people react.” Another alum suggested that it’s problematic for a school district to have the ability to simply remove such an important institution from a community. He asked for instance “Is this a staple of the community? Is this where people connect?” He further suggested that “you can’t lose that. That’s part of a community.” A parent noted that they have maintained relationships with some of their elementary school teachers well into adulthood but she has no idea how those types of relationships could be maintained after a school is closed. As she put it, “I still keep in touch with my 5th-grade teacher and my very first art teacher and I guess I’m just realizing how special that is because it would severely suck if I never got to see my art teacher after 3rd or 4th grade just because my school shut down and she never had another job after that. That would break my heart so I think it’s important to keep the environments that we have for a bunch of different reasons, mental health, friendships, and relationships are all very important and those would all get, not demolished but rearranged in this process”
Denver metro area community members say that school closures have tremendous impacts on the well-being of a community. If schools are to be closed it would seem pertinent that these concerns are accounted for in the decision-making process so as to make the transition to a new school as smooth as possible. One community member noted that schools are the “heart and soul of communities” and if that is the case then closing a school should be considered a delicate and serious procedure.