Members of the incoming majority of the Buffalo School Board said Monday that they don’t intend to allow the Buffalo school district to displace more than 500 students and turn Martin Luther King School 39 into a new Medical Campus High School.
Instead, they intend to allow the children currently attending that school to remain there for another year and relocate the Medical Campus High School to East High School, which apparently wants the program and has the space and labs to house it.
“It makes no sense when we have all this capacity to take another building and create more high school seats,” said Board Member James Sampson, who is expected to become the board’s next president in July. “We have three high schools that are more than half empty.”
The state Education Department said last month that it supported the district’s decision to close MLK, a chronically low-performing school that serves children in prekindergarten through eighth grade.
But last week, given the harm that would be done to MLK students who would be forced to transfer to other struggling schools, the state apparently softened its position. It said MLK students could stay at the school at least another year while the district comes up with a better plan for the children.
Both Sampson and incoming Board Member Larry Quinn said MLK parents deserve some peace of mind, especially after originally being told in the fall that none of their children would be forced to leave.
The plan to force more than 500 current students out of the school and reopen it as a high school for 200 incoming ninth- and 10th-graders this fall is a mistake, they said.
“You can’t put parents in this terrible position,” Quinn said. “It breaks my heart to see these parents with few options in life, and the system is just jerking them around.”
Though MLK parents were glad to learn last week that the state would be willing to let their children remain at the school, members of the current board majority expressed anger at the state’s late change of heart. They said the state came forward with this offer after district staff had already spent countless hours trying to relaunch MLK because of state pressure. They also said any decision to keep MLK as it is would mean jeopardizing a $3.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor that was awarded to create a medical corridor-themed school.
Sampson said that’s a concern but that he’s not yet convinced that moving the Medical Campus High School program to East would invalidate the grant.
“We have to get that information and see what it looks like,” he said.
The district’s original plan was to move the new Medical Campus High School in the vacant School 8 building, but the district couldn’t get the renovation money from the state to make that work financially.
Administrators then decided to locate the program at MLK and relaunch the school as a brand new high school in good standing, in part to accommodate the many requests from parents who want to transfer their high school children out of low-achieving schools.
Exactly how a new medical careers program would be incorporated at East is still unclear, though the school does have existing labs there from when East used to house a bioinformatics program. Backers of the plan concede that moving the Medical Campus High School program to East High School would not turn East into a school in good standing. The effort also may have little impact on the students already enrolled there.
Dwayne Kelly, vice president of the East High School Alumni Association, said that when his group met with the principal and parent representatives, everyone was in favor of having the medical program relocated to their school.
“What I can’t understand is why five black women would oppose this program being put in a minority school in a minority community,” he said, referring to the current board majority.
Members of the incoming majority said there are many failing Buffalo schools that need immediate attention, and that will be the focus of the board after July 1.
“We have to develop a plan for a multitude of schools, including MLK,” Quinn said. “We’ve got to work it through. Parents have to be a part of it. The state has to be a part of it. My sense is that State Ed very badly wants to help Buffalo, but Buffalo has been very hard to help.