Salt Lake district votes to close four elementary schools

Jan 9, 2024, 8:05 PM | Updated: Jan 10, 2024, 6:28 am

SALT LAKE CITY — In a pivotal decision after over a year of studies, debates and intense meetings, the Salt Lake School Board voted Thursday night to permanently close four elementary schools.

Hawthorne, M. Lynn Bennion, Mary W. Jackson, and Riley elementary schools will shut their doors at the end of this school year, accompanied by permanent boundary changes for over a dozen other schools in the district. The four-to-three vote by the board follows months of discussions and marks a significant development in the educational landscape of the Salt Lake City School District.

The discussions, which began publicly last summer, were initiated when a committee presented seven of the district’s 27 elementary schools for review. The list was eventually narrowed down to the final four at the end of last year.

This decision comes against the backdrop of a nearly 30% drop in student population since 2014, raising concerns about the future.

Critics of the board’s decision argue that the recommendations failed to consider any wealthy east side schools. Concerns about transparency and a lack of trust in the decision-making process have been voiced by members of the community.

Pachuco Lautaro, who lives near Mary W. Jackson, expressed his discontent, stating, “It’s a disgrace. It’s going to cause even more harm to our communities, especially on the west side.”

people sit in chairs in an auditorium

Citizens watch as the Salt Lake City School District School Board discusses a vote on closing four elementary schools on Jan. 9, 2024. (Debbie Worthern, KSL TV)

“I don’t want to misrepresent what the district did, but we noticed that there were no schools east of thirteenth east on that list,” said Joey McNamee, an Emerson Elementary parent, who also highlighted the exclusion of the top 25% wealthiest schools in the district from the closure list. The sentiment among some parents is that the board may not be making the best decisions for families in the district.

Jen Oscarson, a Wasatch Elementary parent, voiced her frustration, stating, “Collectively as a whole, we have a system that is a problem, and those problems keep being made, bad decision after bad decision.” The closures are anticipated to have a lasting impact, with some parents expressing concerns that this might not be the end, especially if the decline in student population continues its current track.

Considering the decision, some parents are hopeful for a more transparent process in the future. Joey McNamee emphasized the need for proactive measures involving the community and transparent metrics to build confidence in the decision-making process. Looking ahead, parents are calling for a more inclusive approach that considers the well-being of the entire community.

The Salt Lake City School District will close four of its elementary schools after the board approved the change with a 4-3 vote on Jan. 9, 2024. (Debbie Worthen, KSL TV)

Following the vote, Superintendent Elizabeth Grant encouraged everyone to work together to make the transition easier for the students affected by the closures. As the community grapples with the implications of this decision, there is a shared hope for a collaborative and transparent future in shaping the educational landscape of Salt Lake City.

Board members Bryan Jensen, Ashley Anderson and Jenny Sika voted for the closures. Then Bryce Williams, Kristi Swett and Mohamed Baayd voted against it. Board President Nate Salazar cast the final and deciding vote, passion the motion to close the schools and adopt the boundary changes needed to accommodate students who attend those elementary schools.

The boundaries will be adjusted for 14 elementary schools:

  • Backman Elementary
  • Edison Elementary
  • Emerson Elementary
  • Ensign Elementary
  • Franklin Elementary
  • Liberty Elementary
  • Mountain View Elementary
  • Newman Elementary
  • Parkview Elementary
  • Rose Park Elementary
  • Uintah Elementary
  • Wasatch Elementary
  • Washington Elementary
  • Whittier Elementary

The meeting was open to the public. One person attending the meeting walked to the stage and dropped a banner of some kind on the stage. There was also a boo from the audience as a board member spoke of sharing the responsibility for education among the board, schools, community and parents.

Salt Lake City School District recommends four elementary school closures

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Salt Lake district votes to close four elementary schools