www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/education/blog/bs-md-ci-school-closure-vote-20131217,0,2356799.story

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City board votes to close six schools in 2014

But it spares two others from immediate closure after protests from the community

By Erica L. Green, The Baltimore Sun

10:35 PM EST, December 17, 2013

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The Baltimore school board voted Tuesday to close six schools at the end of the school year but spared two other schools from immediate closure after passionate protests from the community.

The schools approved to close at the end of the school year are Bluford Drew Jemison STEM Academy-East, Baltimore Civitas Middle/High School, Baltimore Talent Development High School, Baltimore Antioch Diploma Plus High School, Baltimore Liberation Diploma Plus High School, and the Friendship Academy of Science and Technology.

However, Bluford Drew Jemison STEM Academy-West and Baltimore Community High School were saved from immediate closure.

The board revoked Bluford West's charter but said that it will seek another operator for the school. Baltimore Community High School's recommendation was amended to delay the school's closure until 2017.

The board also rejected the plan to close Grove Park Elementary School in 2017 but approved closing Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts that year.

Since the plan was proposed by interim CEO Tisha Edwards, the recommendations have drawn scrutiny from the school board and protests from school communities.

On Tuesday, the board heard nearly three hours of testimony from students, teachers, community leaders, parents, pastors and politicians who urged the board to keep some schools open.

Edwards said that while the decisions were tough, "this room is filled with people that remind us how many people care about the children of Baltimore."

In the case of Baltimore Talent Development High School, the board was urged to allow the school to serve out a one-year contract extension it was granted in April. The school had been recommended for closure last year but the board gave it the extension.

A representative for Sen. Verna Jones-Rodwell who attended the public hearing Tuesday said the Democrat wanted the school board to give Talent Development the year it was promised.

Several supporters of Bluford Drew Jemison STEM Academies spoke in support of keeping the popular all-male schools open.

Marvin "Doc" Cheatham, president of the local chapter of the National Action Network and former president of the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, asked the board to visit Bluford to see what kind of difference it was making in the boys' lives.

"Many of our young boys are in a situation where they are the closest pipeline to go to jail," Cheatham said. "If you walk through that school, you will see and feel the difference."

After voting to keep Bluford West open, Commissioner Marnell Cooper said that during the emotional testimony for Bluford, he didn't hear enough about academics. He said those who seek to take over the school will need to focus on more than just the boys' character development.

"Form without substance is not enough," Cooper said.

In addition, the board approved opening a new school in Canton and Cherry Hill.

erica.green@baltsun.com

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