Parents angered over recommendation to close down Novato elementary school

Bay Area

MARIN COUNTY, Calif. (KRON) — The Novato Unified School District is considering closing one of its elementary schools to save on operational costs.

A committee on Wednesday decided to recommend shuttering Lu Sutton Elementary School. Their recommendation now goes to the Board of Trustees, who will make the final decision.

NUSD Superintendent Kristopher Cosca said Friday that no official decision has been made to close a school. 

“Should the Board approve the recommendation to close Lu Sutton, then we will work with our consultants, Board, and community, to discuss plans for reassigning students to other schools considering things like distance to the school, streets crossed, capacity, the ethnic mix of students on receiving campus, and several other factors,” Cosca said.

The committee recommendation is informed by criteria like the school’s operation cost, capacity to accommodate excess students, special program facilities, ethnic balance, transportation, neighborhoods and education program.

Their recommendation was narrowed down to either Lu Sutton or Rancho Elementary School.

Community members are unhappy with the whole process, saying the final schools that were on the chopping block were chosen almost a month before the committee set actual criteria. They are concerned that the process was not equal and that it disrupts schools with more students of color.

Lu Sutton parent Michael Seville told KRON4 that the recommendation “was completely dismissive of a significant population of Novato and an overt attack on diversity and a commitment to inclusion in our community. I am ashamed of what our District is doing to its families and community.”

According to data from the 7-11 District Advisory Committee’s meeting, Lu Sutton’s English Learner Enrollment increased to 41.4% in 2020, compared to 36.4% in 2019. In contrast, Rancho had 18.3% English Learner Enrollment in 2020.

Here’s a detailed look at the committee’s criteria and how the two schools compared, taken from the April 28 meeting recording:

The cost per student at Lu Sutton amounts to $1,548, the meeting presentation said. Rancho’s cost per student is $1,594.

“The committee seemed to go back and forth on different data points and after stating how important diversity and protecting children with less resources were, low and behold, they selected the three most economically challenged and diverse student populations,” another Lu Sutton parent, Gareth Williams, told KRON4.

In the days leading to the final recommendation, community members concerned with the closure of either school had led demonstrations in protest.

A solidarity rally was held on the Novato Green on Tuesday to “showcase the dissatisfaction and inequity with the entire process,” according to an email from a Lu Sutton parent and PTA board member.

The school district said in an FAQ that it is “committed to examining and changing structures, policies, and practices that contribute to inequitable outcomes and experiences for any student.” Click here to read NUSD’s Equity Imperative Declaration.

With an official recommendation put forward, the NUSD Board of Trustees will now meet on May 25 to decide whether to accept or reject the school closure.

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