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Educationby Fern Shen2:05 pmDec 14, 20160

Activist vows legal fight against closure of Grove Park Elementary

Board votes to shutter four Baltimore schools. Defers decision on Renaissance Academy.

Above: Residents are vowing to fight the planned closure of Grove Park Elementary/Middle School in Northwest Baltimore. (Google Streetview)

As expected, the Baltimore school board voted last night to close Grove Park Elementary/Middle School and three other schools they say have experienced declining enrollment.

But Helena Hicks said that isn’t the end of it.

The longtime civil rights activist vowed today to file a suit to stop the closure of Grove Park, located in Northwest Baltimore on Kennison Avenue. She said she hopes to include nearby Northwestern High School, also approved for closure, in the lawsuit.

“It’s race discrimination. They are only closing black schools,” said Grove Park resident Hicks, who lives in the neighborhood and whose sons attended the school. “They wouldn’t handle things this way if this was a white school.”

Hicks said residents were never informed of plans to close the school or included in a discussion of alternative plans for its future. Under the school consolidation initiative approved last night, Grove Park would close in 2018 and students would be moved into Calvin Rodwell Elementary School, which is getting a new building.

“We are certainly not going to let our children be sent down to that shooting gallery on Liberty Heights,” Hicks said, referring to Calvin Rodwell’s location a block from the intersection with Gwynn Oak Avenue, a crime-plagued area with a tavern and fast food stores.

Addressing the school board last night, Hicks said Grove Park students are accustomed “to trees, freedom, a whole wooded area, they’re used to deer and seeing foxes all through the neighborhood. . . They’re not used to asphalt and buses and stoplights and gunfire.”

But City Schools CEO Sonja Santelises said Grove Park’s dwindling enrollment made the closure necessary. With 282 students, Santelises said, it is “unsustainably small.”

The 82-year-old Hicks challenged that enrollment number, saying she went to the school Monday and counted 348 children.

“I went to all 34 classrooms,” she said, consulting her notes. “I went to the 16 rooms in the main building, 10 modular classrooms and 8 portables. Every room was full.”

For Renaissance, a Reprieve

While Grove Park supporters were disappointed last night, Renaissance Academy high school came away with a reprieve – the board deferred its vote on the West Baltimore school’s fate until January 24.

Renaissance was in the spotlight last year after three of its students were killed, one of them after being attacked by a fellow student while inside the school building. School officials have said students need a fresh start in a different building, while supporters say an innovative program there needs a chance to bear fruit.

The board said it was deferring action on the school, housed on the third floor of Booker T. Washington Middle School, in order to explore a possible alternative location.

The other schools approved for closure last night were:

 Baltimore I.T. Academy – “Close effective summer of 2017, surplus to City of Baltimore in 2021.”

Samuel F.B. Morse Elementary School – “Close effective summer 2017, surplus to the City of Baltimore in 2017.”

Northwestern High School– “Close effective 2017, surplus to City of Baltimore in 2019.”

Grove Park Elementary/Middle School  – “Close effective summer of 2018, retain in the buildings portfolio.”

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