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Denver Public Schools board votes to close three schools over 'critically low enrollment'

Denver Discovery School, Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy and Fairview Elementary School will each close at the end of this school year.
Denver Public Schools
Posted at 12:49 PM, Mar 09, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-09 23:51:31-05

DENVER — The Denver Public Schools Board of Education voted Thursday to close three district schools over what it called “critically low enrollment.”

Denver Discovery School, Fairview Elementary and Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy (MSLA) will each close at the end of the 2022-23 school year.

Some board members were emotional during Thursday’s meeting, taking breaks in between votes to gather themselves.

The district followed superintendent Alex Marrero’s recommendations for the three schools:

  • Close Denver Discovery School at the end of this year and help families find a “preferred school” within DPS. Staff would also receive support in finding a new position within the district.
  • Unify MSLA into Valverde Elementary School, giving MSLA students and staff guaranteed placement at Valverde
  • Unify Fairview Elementary into Cheltenham Elementary School next year, guaranteeing placement at Cheltenham for all Fairview students and staff. The boundary for Cheltenham Elementary will be expanded to include the Fairview Elementary boundary and transportation will be guaranteed to all students within the new boundary.

The three schools were part of an initial list of 10 schools identified in October that DPS recommended for closure and consolidation.

That list was whittled down to five schools in November and to three last month.

Each of the three schools has fewer than 120 students, with Denver Discovery School projected to enroll just 62 students in 2023-24.

"This is unfair," Najah Abusarryah, whose child attends Fairview, told media at the meeting. "It's not just a school for us. It's like our second community."

Like Abusarryah, Dominic Diaz and his child also live across the street from the school.

"She's actually really thrived here. She loves her classmates. She loves her teachers. It's really disheartening and disappointing to see what's happening," Diaz said. "I feel like DPS already has a staffing problem with buses, so I'm concerned about how exactly that's going to work and for many of these students. They've never been on a school bus before, and they've expressed concern about this ... And it's scary for them."

DPS Superintendent Alex Marrero was not available for comment immediately after the vote, but told Denver7 after the meeting it was not an easy decision to make.

"The last thing that anybody really wants to engage with, which is a closure conversation — not something I was looking, but I know that's the cards that I was dealt," Marrero said.

The three schools account for more than $2.4 million in supplemental funding, according to information presented to the board Thursday. DPS, Colorado’s largest school district, faces a potential $9 million budget deficit at the end of this school year as enrollment declines, according to The Denver Post.

Overall enrollment in DPS has fallen for three straight years, according to the paper, while elementary enrollment has been on the decline since 2014.

The decisions on school choice and unification were based on feedback from families in each school community. Denver Discovery parents wanted “agency in selecting their next ‘forever school,’” while MSLA families hoped to stay together at nearby Valverde. Staff at Fairview pushed for unification with Cheltenham while families expressed concern over transportation.

The Denver Housing Authority released a statement objecting to the closure of Fairview Elementary, citing hopes for increased enrollment as residents move back into the redeveloped Sun Valley neighborhood.

"Sun Valley families, their future stability, and the important educational role of Fairview Elementary have been at the center of DHA’s redevelopment approach for the past decade," the organization said in a statement to Denver7.

Marrero responded, telling Denver7, "I believe they are expecting an influx of residents. Those residents can simply just be residents. There is no indication that they're school-aged children. And even if they are school-aged children, our records has historically shown that 44 percent of those students choose to go elsewhere."

If there is an influx of school-aged students in the future, Marrero said DPS will be open to reopening the school.

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