What Will School Closures Mean for Neighborhoods High in Poverty, Lacking in Assets?

Most of the 20 schools that DCPS plans to close next year are located in certain areas of the city where poverty is high and neighborhood assets—grocery stores, recreation centers and libraries, for example—are few. When DCPS announced the proposed school closures, parents and community members raised many questions and concerns. For students and families, would closures mean disruptions to relationships they have built with teachers and others in the school? For the community, will the loss of a school mean the disappearance of an important neighborhood resource?

The immediate effect will be on students and families, but another crucial question is what the closures would mean for the neighborhoods that surround each school. More than just buildings, schools can serve as anchors in communities—places for learning and community activities and engagement, such as summer camps, Advisory Neighborhood Commission meetings or afterschool activities.

In response to thoughtful questions from the Capitol Hill Public Schools Parent Organization, DC Action for Children mapped the proposed closures to address the impact on neighborhoods.

The proposed closures are clustered in certain areas of the city. Twelve neighborhoods, mostly in Southeast and Northeast, would experience the closing of an elementary, middle or high school. The neighborhoods of Douglas/Shipley Terrace and Congress Heights/Bellevue/Washington Highlands—would face more than one school closure. In most of these neighborhoods, residents are predominantly black. In eight of the 12 neighborhoods, child poverty is over 30% and assets such as grocery stores are lacking.

Nearly 40% of DC children live in neighborhoods that have a planned school closure. Though not every child living there attends a DCPS school (one source of the schools’ under-enrollment), many do. Are other high quality options nearby, either within DCPS or in public charter schools?

When traditional DCPS schools are no longer part of a neighborhood, what happens to their role as community assets? Schools are home to unique programs during the school day and after-hours activities. For example, Ferebee-Hope Elementary has an indoor pool and recreation center, Johnson Middle has many sports programs for students there and Kenilworth Elementary benefited from a summer program organized by the Fishing School. When these schools are vacant, children attending them, or living in the neighborhoods, still need to access educational resources.

DCPS has plans for some of the schools: Francis-Stevens Education Campus will become a satellite location of School Without Walls. Spingarn High School will become a career and technical education center. River Terrace Elementary will reopen as a school for students with disabilities. But other buildings have no clear future.

Neighborhoods schools can be important fixtures and gathering places in their communities. We urge DCPS to consider the impact of school closures on neighborhoods, including whether a school closure means the loss of a crucial community asset.

How could the vacant schools remain neighborhood assets?