By Katie Nielsen

NEWARK (CBS SF) — As parents and children protested outside, the Newark Unified School District moved forward Thursday night with closing two of the district’s eight elementary schools.

The board voted to close Snow Elementary School and transition all the students into Graham Elementary School starting in the 2021/2022 academic year. They also approved a plan to close Musick Elementary School and spread its students to other district schools for the 2022/2023 school year.

The move comes as part of a plan to cut costs due to a projected $6 million budget shortfall, partly due to declining enrollment across the district.

A committee tasked with evaluating which schools might be candidates to close originally suggested closing Graham Elementary School, which caused an uproar among parents.

A few hours ahead of the school board meeting, dozens of parents drove back and forth in front of district offices. There were kids holding signs out the windows, makeshift banners fluttering on the cars, and drivers laying on the horns. Parent say the caravan was to demand the school district hear their concerns about closing Graham.

“This is a community that is already underprivileged,” said Anabel Zarate, who has a son at Graham and another who recently graduated Graham and is now in junior high. “It’s disadvantaged. It already faces language barriers, and to close the school and to close the school and distribute kids into three different campuses just doesn’t make sense to me.”

During the virtual school board meeting dozens of people spoke during public comments including parents, students, and teachers.

“I’m worried that because Graham has a predominantly Hispanic community, you’re using this point to close down our school,” said Maggie Carcamo during the public comment. “I’m worried about what message that sends to not only our students, but our city as a whole that this is OK.”

“Graham Elementary is not just a collection of buildings and a list of expenses,” said Terry Dunn, who also spoke during the public comment section of the meeting. He’s the former principal of Graham Elementary School. “It’s a living, healthy community.”

Another topic that came up again and again during public comments was the stress on students of having their school closed during a pandemic.

“Please don’t interrupt our lives at a time that’s already hard for me and our family,” said Carlos Zarate, who is Anabel Zarate’s son and graduated from Graham last year and is now in 7th grade.

The board also voted to close Musick. The school will stay open for the 2021/2022 academic year, but close the following year. Students will be moved to two other elementary schools within the district that are yet to be determined.

Board members and Newark School Superintendent, Dr. Mark Triplett, acknowledged what a difficult decision it was to close two of the eight elementary schools. They said during the meeting they are trying not to make emotional decisions, but do what’s best for the impacted families and the district’s bottom line.

Closing and consolidating the elementary schools will save the district an estimated $1 million a year, which is part of an effort to cut costs to make up for a projected 6-million dollar budget shortfall.

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