Baltimore city school board votes to close four schools

The city school board voted Tuesday to close four schools, including a West Baltimore elementary that community leaders fought to save and a Southeast Baltimore high school that Dundalk lawmakers pushed to close.

Westside Elementary School, located in the Penn-North neighborhood, which experienced the brunt of April's rioting, is among those the board voted to close at the end of the academic year. The others are Maritime Industries Academy High School, Baltimore Community High School and the Maryland Academy of Technology & Health Sciences.

Baltimore city schools CEO Gregory Thornton recommended the closings in November as part of an annual review of schools that have poor performance or climate, low enrollment or underutilized buildings.

Thornton recommended a fifth school, Roots and Branches charter, for closure, but officials deferred the vote for further study.

Since Thornton announced his recommendations, some residents and educators have argued that schools have become community hubs and havens for students in a year of upheaval and violence in the city.

Del. Antonio Hayes was among many who testified against closing Westside Elementary School, which will merge with another school, John Eager Howard. Eventually both student populations will move into a new building.

Westside's building, which officials said is underutilized, was originally slated to close in 2018 as part of a districtwide plan to rebuild and renovate. The $1 billion plan, approved by the legislature two years ago, requires the city school system to shutter underutilized school buildings.

Hayes said Tuesday he was disappointed by the board's vote because it disregarded what West Baltimore families want for their children. He said the neighborhood — where businesses burned in the spring — had lost enough already this year.

"Looking around the neighborhood, they have a lot of blight they have to look at every day, and the parents, the teachers made that a place of love," Hayes said. "And the only thing that was up for discussion [by the board] was the building and not what the institution provides to a community."

The vote to close Baltimore Community High School was welcomed by some.

The alternative high school has long created tension in Baltimore County's Dundalk neighborhood. Criticism grew when students were charged in the near-fatal beating of a man last spring. Several county lawmakers testified at a public hearing in support of Thornton's recommendation to close the school.

erica.green@baltsun.com

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