District Building Rehab Plans Shake up Families, Students

When school districts start talking school modernization, they don’t appear to take into account the problems such plans will make for students and their families, The Orange County Register reports. As an example, the Register cites improvement projections put forth by the Garden Grove Unified School District which will see students shuttled from school to school for years with parents dealing with scheduling and adjustment fallouts that will inevitably result.

The district is made up of 68 school buildings with some as old as 50 years. There’s no doubt that some immediate investment in modernization is called for. The passage of a bond measure last year meant that the district now has nearly half-a-billion dollars in its capital budget, so before anyone outside the central administration even knew any details about the upcoming rehab, district officials were off to the races with an improvement plan that covered dozens of buildings around the city.

It is a process that district officials say is new to them and has forced them to forgo certainty in favor of adaptation. Ultimately, this will all benefit the students, district officials say. But some parents are confused and irritated by what they view as a lack of communication from the district. The complaints are wide-ranging, from concerns about congested parking to worries that mergers will create blind spots in emergency procedures. Some parents, such as those whose children attend Skylark Elementary, have argued that merging schools disregards the students’ pride in their school.

“They send letters and that’s it,” said Ly Mao, a Fountain Valley resident whose children go to Monroe Elementary, one of several schools to relocate its student population to other sites to accommodate construction. “Then they have meetings at inopportune times. It’s a joke.”

These kinds of laments from parents are bound to get more common as more districts wake up to the necessity of upgrading their schools. However, the process would seem to go a lot smoother if other cities forgo the mistakes that parents claim Garden Grove has made – lack of communication and an apparent disinterest in difficulties these plans cause in the lives of families and students.

Among the complaints is that the district is changing its plans in the middle of the year and making commitments to parents in the fall only to renege on them come winter. Specifically, disgruntled parents point to the case of Monroe elementary in Foundation Valley. The school was scheduled to undergo an overhaul this year, so the students were moved to the nearby Northcutt for 2012-13 academic year, and with the district promising to allow them to come back to Monroe come next fall.

Then, on Jan. 16, Monroe parents received a letter saying that because of low enrollment, among other factors, Monroe and Northcutt would merge indefinitely and the Monroe campus would become a relocation site. Next year, the Monroe campus will house Marshall Elementary.

“They weren’t fair to us,” Mao said. “They said it was temporary. That’s fine. Now in the middle of the year, they sent us a letter just like that. They aren’t communicating well at all.”