While school boards have the legal ability to close schools, many school districts have their own policies on how to go about doing it. At the Hartford Public Schools, there is fairly clear policy on the process of closing a school. In contrast, suburban West Hartford Public Schools does not appear to have a policy on school closure in their policy collection. This suggests that school closure is something that happens in Hartford frequently enough to merit a policy that includes and protect parents from arbitrary decisions.
The HBOE Policy 3600 on school closure was last updated in 2004. To summarize, the written regulations (R-3600 (c)) require the Board to notify parents of a potential school closure, prepare a closing study using multiple criteria that is conducted by a committee (the selection process and requirement for a committee are vague), allow people close to the decisions (e.g. parents at the school) to have input in deliberations about closing a school before the final decision is made, and arrange public hearings on the topic. Generally, any final decision to act requires a vote to close a school.
To be more specific, the closing study must, “include direct involvement by those communities considered in the study.” Further, the study must consider the facility conditions, adequacy of the site, cost/savings, community considerations, and alternatives to closing the school. Once the closing study is complete, it is delivered to the Board of Education and there are two public hearings on the school closure proposal, one at the school and one at the Board of Education. See the policy document below.
In 2016, the Hartford Board of Education leadership and Superintendent Narvaez proposed to change this policy. This proposal was meant to make it easier to close schools, including more vague language on the inclusion of parents in a decision to close or consolidate schools. Due to issues with the language of the policy, it was tabled in 2016 and never brought back to the Board for a vote. This was all tied up with the failed Equity 2020 committee.
Although never approved, the proposed policy would have called for a few similar steps to close a school. Those steps would have included an ad-hoc closure committee that was “representative of both internal and external stakeholders”. This committee would have to, “establish the specific school and facility review criteria, determine the stakeholder engagement and communications plan, and and develop the committee work and recommendations timeline.”
A key aspect of this process (in the new or proposed policy) calls for people close to the decision (e.g. direct involvement by those communities considered) to have a say in whether their school would close or remain open. Also, the policy was meant to ensure that the decision was not arbitrary, based on vague or no criteria at all, and that any transition plans were well thought out, including transportation and other considerations.
In the case of recent vote to close schools, do you think the Hartford Board of Education follow this policy? What was your experience?