They fought more than two years to get their neighborhood school. Then, yesterday, they found out it won't be in the neighborhood at all, but four miles away.
News of the Baltimore school board's decision stunned and infuriated teachers, parents and students of the Stadium School, the city's first public school to be conceived and run primarily by teachers and parents but paid for by taxpayers.
Last night, more than 125 of the school's backers gathered inside Memorial Stadium, where all summer teachers have toiled over lesson plans, parents have jammed meetings and students have even longed for school days. School, after all, was never as they figured it would be this year -- inside Baltimore's old granddaddy of a ballpark -- and the prospect of recess, on the field where legends became legends, never seemed more appealing.
But yesterday, teachers, parents and students learned the Stadium School not only wouldn't be in the stadium, as Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke in June had said it would be, but nowhere near the ballpark.
Because it would cost some $400,000, three times original estimates, to make repairs necessary to meet building and safety codes, the city school board said it decided to bus the 80 students to space inside Northern Parkway Junior High for the entire 1994-1995 school year.
Ruby Tate crowded into a room with other parents beneath the box seats on the first-base side of the ballpark with her daughter Shavon, who begins ninth grade this fall.
"I think this is really a dirty hand that the city has dealt us because all summer long, we had prepared based on these promises that the school would be in the neighborhood," Mrs. Tate said. "A couple days before school opens, they drop this bomb."
In an informal vote, parents decided to boycott the first day of school at Northern Parkway, while rallying for a neighborhood site, and to appeal to Mayor Schmoke again.
The school's leaders said Superintendent Walter G. Amprey had repeatedly told them he hoped to send the children to Northern Parkway for only a few months.
The former junior high in Northeast Baltimore serves as a school system professional development center and is being used this year to house students from nearby Hamilton Elementary-Middle School during renovations.
As late as this week, Stadium School leaders said, Dr. Amprey had told them the school system planned to provide portable classrooms across the street from the stadium, in the old Eastern High School parking lot, while the city looked at the feasibility of opening the school inside the stadium.
Stadium School supporters said a neighborhood location within walking distance is critical to their unusual curriculum, which stresses the environment, community involvement and intensive parent participation, as well as reading, writing, math, science and social studies.
Many said they felt betrayed and deceived by the mayor, the superintendent and the school board.
"What they offered us . . . is like a slap in the face," said Netta Beard, whose daughter Tahira is starting sixth grade. "All the organizing we did to get a school, and then they're just going to throw us out of the community anyway? Everything they presented to us was a crock."
Efforts to reach Mr. Schmoke, who was out of town, and his spokesman were unsuccessful yesterday.
Phillip H. Farfel, the city school board president, praised the Stadium School plan and said the board did its best to keep the school in the neighborhood. "We've set them up with a workable alternative," he said. After this school year, Dr. Farfel said, the Stadium School will be moved to a permanent home, at an existing school. Dr. Amprey said the board faced a tough dilemma, as many overcrowded schools desperately need more space and money. "They're up against a brick wall. What do they say to these other schools that need space?"
Saying they were frustrated with what they called failing city schools, a team of five teachers with experience in both public and private schools in Baltimore developed the original Stadium School proposal, with about 30 parents.
The proposal has received strong endorsements from Mr. Schmoke; Council President Mary Pat Clarke, Councilman Carl Stokes, a 2nd District Democrat; four community associations; and a wide range of educators. The Stadium School is to be governed by a board composed of teachers, parents and community members and be operated at a cost of about $400,000 a year.
It will initially begin with fourth to ninth grades, then expand to other grades. The school guarantees that it will meet state requirements, based on the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, within five years -- or shut down.