Five Berkeley families are trying to prevent the Ferguson-Florissant School District from closing another school in their city.
The residents and city filed a lawsuit seeking to block the current redistricting plan for the north St. Louis County school system and force the school board to come up with another way to adjust to a shrinking student population.
The school district filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit in federal court Tuesday, but the judge has not ruled on it yet. School officials say the plan approved by the board is what’s best for the entire district.
The Ferguson-Florissant Board of Education in October approved a redistricting plan that will shutter Airport Elementary School in Berkeley and the historic Vogt Elementary School in Ferguson after this school year. It will also transform McCluer South-Berkeley High School into a magnet school focused on science, technology, engineering, arts and math, forcing some Berkeley students to change high schools.
Berkeley residents and city officials objected, contending the city will continue to bleed residents if there are no neighborhood schools left to attract new families. They argue the plan favors whiter, wealthier residents in the northern part of the district.
“Berkeley needs public schools in their area the most,” said attorney Eric Banks, who is representing the families and Berkeley in the lawsuit. “The Berkeley citizens, the students who have overcome so much, who are making such great strides, don’t need this taken away from them.”
Some of the families in the lawsuit live within walking distance of Airport school. Having to take a bus to a school farther away will have negative impacts on their education and social lives, they said in the lawsuit.
The Ferguson-Florissant district educates 11,000 students in nine north St. Louis County municipalities. Enrollment is half of its historic high and has been stagnant since 1991. The district has extra space for more than 4,000 students in its buildings.
A federal judge forced the predominately white Berkeley schools and black Kinloch schools to fold into Ferguson-Florissant in 1975. Most white residents fled soon after. Berkeley has lost about half its population since then.
Reducing its facilities will allow the district to maximize its resources, officials said, such as expanding preschool options.
“We want every municipality we serve to feel a part of the work we’re doing,” spokesman Kevin Hampton said in a statement. “The district is focused on mitigating barriers for all children.”
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