AUSTIN, Texas — Austin ISD leaders provided an update Wednesday evening on the four elementary school campuses that were closed in 2020.
In November 2019, Austin ISD's board voted to close Sims, Metz, Pease and Brooke elementary schools. Most of the campuses were located in East Austin.
Parents and students advocated for months to keep the schools open. The board cited limited funds, enrollment, failure to meet students' needs and a history of segregation within the district as reasons for the closures.
In February 2020, AISD created "School Changes Implementation Teams" (SCITS) to help the community with the transition as students were assigned to new schools. The district's Social and Emotional Learning Team also worked to help families, teachers and students cope with the major changes.
Some parents said the upheaval caused behavioral problems, slipping grades and fear in their kids. Some called the closures racist, as the majority of students impacted were kids of color and economically disadvantaged families. In a November 2019 report, AISD's own chief equity officer argued that the closures would gravely affect under-served communities and continue racial and economic segregation.
On Wednesday night, more than two years after the board voted to close the schools and more than one year since they closed, AISD leaders updated the community on their plans for the campuses. They also discussed two other properties that AISD plans to repurpose: the Anita Ferrales Coy Facility and the current Rosedale School campus.
AISD community engagement coordinator Gabriella Beker said at the meeting the school district is seeking input from the community on how to repurpose these district properties that are underused or no longer in use. The community can share their ideas by answering an online survey about what to do with the six difference campuses.
The repurposing input process will take place in a phased approach, with Pease Elementary School, Anita Coy and Rosedale campuses being the three in the first phase. The input period will begin after the winter break, in January, with a potential final decision made for Pease by April and the other two in mid-May.
Beker said whatever decision is made for Pease, it has to be used for educational purposes, which is why it is on a slightly different timeline than the other two buildings in phase one. She added that the hope is to have that elementary ready and repurposed for the coming school year.
In late July, a similar input and decision-making process will begin for an additional two campuses with a final decision by December 2022. In January of 2023, the last phase will begin. The district at this point remains undecided as to which order the remaining three facilities will be placed on the timeline. The other three campuses include Sims Elementary, Metz Elementary and Brooke Elementary.
In addition to the community engagement portion, the district said it is working with an engineering and consulting firm to develop real estate, and financial and economic analyses to see what is possible for each location.
In regards to the Anita Ferrales Coy Facility campus, home to the Alternative Learning Center, the district clarified it will keep the center and other operations housed on the 20-acre property, but could make the decision to keep operations on campus or move them, and then decide what to do with the rest of the land.
One meeting attendee inquired about AISD's decision in closing the four elementary schools in 2019 and how the district could work with communities to regain trust and know that they would be heard in this repurposing process.
"We recognize that the process which ended up closing Brooke, Metz, Sims and Pease was not our finest work as a district. It was deeply flawed and it was not equitable," Beth Wilson, executive director of planning and asset management, said. "But knowing now that those schools are closed, we would like an opportunity to work with the community. And when I say community I mean not just those people who now live around the school, but former school communities and the rest of the district, to try to best use these sites in service of those communities."
Beker added she hopes this process can demonstrate to the community that their input will be recorded and applied to the repurposing process. Officials also said they hope to start a third-party equity assessment next year.
The district's director of real estate, Jeremy Strifler, said the repurposing process could be used to address the need created in East Austin with the four schools being closed. He added that at this early point, solutions to those needs are not quite known.
Virtual and in-person feedback sessions for the first phase of the project are set to begin in January 2022.
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