Parents, students gather at several Lawrence schools in protest against possible closures

photo by: Dylan Lysen/Lawrence Journal-World

A Broken Arrow Elementary student writes messages in chalk outside the school building as part of a "Save Our Schools" protest on Monday, Jan. 17, 2022. Broken Arrow is one of several schools that the district is considering to close as a way to save money amid a multimillion-dollar budget shortfall.

In the past year, Lynn Stansberry and her family moved to an eastern Lawrence neighborhood so her two children could attend Broken Arrow Elementary, a school near and dear to her heart because she also attended the school when she was a child.

But on Monday, Stansberry said that dream appeared to be threatened, as the Lawrence school district is considering closing the elementary school as a way to save money amid a multimillion-dollar budget shortfall.

“I think this is one of the best schools in Lawrence,” Stansberry said as she stood near the entrance of the elementary school and children wrote chalk messages on the sidewalks. “It’s kind of a blow.”

Stansberry and her children were not alone. Many other parents and their children on Monday came out in protest against the school district’s consideration of closing several schools in eastern and central Lawrence, marking the sidewalks as a way to make their feelings heard.

Messages at Broken Arrow called the school “small but mighty” and demanded it stay open, while a message at Liberty Memorial Central Middle School called on the district to “keep us as a middle school.”

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World photo

Community members showed up at six area schools proposed as candidates to be closed Monday afternoon. The highest turnout was at Woodlawn Elementary, where the group paused to take a group photo and video midway through Monday’s event.

As the Journal-World previously reported, the district’s school boundary committee last week reviewed several scenarios where schools would be closed to save the district money as it faces at least a $3.3 million budget shortfall because of declining enrollment. Each of the scenarios involves more than one school closure, and Broken Arrow and Liberty Memorial are included in almost all of them. Other schools that could be closed include Hillcrest, New York, Pinckney and Woodlawn elementary schools.

But the messages written in chalk appeared to show that the parents and students of those neighborhood schools will not allow them to close without a fight.

Alicia Erickson, a mother of students at Woodlawn Elementary and an organizer of the events, told the Journal-World it was important that none of the schools proposed to be closed be left out of the protest. That’s especially the case, she said, because the list of schools on the chopping block serve an economically diverse part of town.

“In fighting for Woodlawn we need to fight for all of these schools,” Erickson said. “East Lawrence and North Lawrence are a unique make-up of people and are really important for all of us to band together to fight (for), as well as showing up for our individual schools and to support our teachers we love so much.”

She also said the discussion to close any of the schools came as a surprise, and many parents felt blindsided by the news.

photo by: Dylan Lysen/Lawrence Journal-World

A message written in chalk in front of Broken Arrow Elementary School says the school is “small but mighty.” Parents and students of the school gathered to write messages in support of keeping the school open on Monday, Jan. 17, 2022, as the school district considers options that could close it and other eastern and central Lawrence schools.

Shannon Berquist, who was protesting outside Broken Arrow, echoed that sentiment. She said none of the families were prepared for the news, noting many of the parents moved to specific areas in Lawrence to attend the neighborhood schools.

Although Berquist works for the school district and could have her children attend other schools, she said she wanted them to attend their neighborhood school as a way to support their part of the community.

“We have a house less than a block from here,” Berquist said. “I feel strongly that we should invest in our neighborhood schools.”

But whether the schools will close remains to be seen. District officials previously said the presented scenarios have not been formally recommended, and if they are, the school board would need to consider approving them before they are final.

A spokeswoman for the district did not respond to the Journal-World’s request for comment on Monday while school offices were closed in recognition of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The district’s boundary committee was reviewing the school closure scenarios at the district’s budget and program evaluation committee’s request. To help find ways to save money, the budget and program evaluation committee is considering many options, including “closing an elementary school” and “closing a middle school.” The proposals also included reducing staff positions at several levels, such as eliminating middle school assistant principals, executive director positions in the district administration and some coaching and fine arts leadership positions, among several other options.

photo by: Dylan Lysen/Lawrence Journal-World

A message written in chalk outside Liberty Memorial Central Middle School calls for the district to keep it as a middle school. The school is one of several up for consideration to be closed as a way to save the school district money amid a multimillion-dollar budget shortfall.

Meanwhile, the district’s administration has already begun exploring and discussing with school leaders the possibility of closing New York Elementary and turning it into a free, public Montessori school.

As the Journal-World previously reported, Superintendent Anthony Lewis said the district began exploring the possibility as a way to attract students to the district.

He also confirmed that the district shared information about the plan with New York Elementary’s staff and the school’s site council. But Lewis said no official decision or recommendation on the proposal has been made.

That proposal also comes just months after the district closed Kennedy Elementary School, another school that served eastern Lawrence students, to turn it into an early-childhood community education center. That move saved the district a little more than $700,000 in its budget, the district said at the time.

— Journal-World Reporter Austin Hornbostel contributed to this report.

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World photo

Woodlawn students and their families scattered across the school’s sidewalks Monday afternoon, drawing messages of support in chalk.

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