Editor’s note: Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this story wrongly stated that Sable and Paris elementary schools would be replaced with magnet schools. A magnet school is planned in the area at North Middle School, but the future of Paris and Sable schools has not been determined. We apologize for the error.
AURORA | In a raucous school board meeting that went past midnight, the Aurora Public Schools board voted to reverse a previous decision and stay the course with Blueprint APS, angering parents at two schools targeted for closure.
The vote will shutter Sable and Paris elementary schools in northwest Aurora and is part of a larger plan to create a magnet school in the area. The decision reverses a previous vote two months ago that hinged on a desire to keep the schools open.
The 4-3 vote prompted fury from audience members, many of whom stormed out of the meeting immediately after the motion carried, leveling accusations at board members.
“This is a joke,” Sable Elementary School family liaison Liliana Saffron said. “You’re letting these people manipulate you. You are failing the community.”
Several people asked whether board members would be the ones to go to Sable and Paris on Wednesday to tell students their schools would be closing.
“Go apologize to those kids and those teachers that you’re throwing to the side,” one woman said.
Launched in 2017, Blueprint APS is the district’s process to manage declining enrollment on the western side of the district.
In December, Superintendent Rico Munn recommended that for Region 1 of the district, Sable and Paris elementary schools be closed after the 2022-2023 school year and a magnet school focused on health open on the campus of North Middle School along with a P-TECH program, a six-year program beginning in ninth grade that allows students to graduate with a high school diploma and a college associate’s degree.
The recommendation was met by heavy opposition from Sable community members, who said that the closure would destabilize their neighborhood and contribute to gentrification. When the decision came to a vote in March, the board voted 4-3 to reject the recommendation. Under the board’s policies, Munn was then charged with returning to the board at its May meeting with a series of frameworks for how the board could go forward with the Blueprint process and keep some schools open.
At the meeting, Munn presented the board with three options that they had been briefed about before during a special meeting in April: staying the course with Blueprint, either with the previous recommendations or with new criteria for how schools are considered for closure, instituting a six-month pause or abandoning Blueprint APS altogether. None of the options excluded the possibility of schools needing to be closed at some point.
The board listened to about two hours of public comment on Tuesday, the bulk of which was from Sable and Paris community members opposing school closures. Speakers questioned the district’s given reasons for the closures and asked the board members to honor their initial vote.
Munn said that the public comment at meetings spoke to the level of passion and commitment people felt for their neighborhood schools. However, he said that it was “difficult to envision any path forward that does not involve this level of difficult conversation.”
Several board members expressed frustration with the three options they were given. Nichelle Ortiz said she didn’t feel like the options responded to the concerns the board members had raised.
“We’re obviously going in circles at this point,” she said.
Vicki Reinhard said that she felt similarly and still did not understand why the board’s vote at its March meeting was not binding.
As in previous meetings, board members did not appear to understand why they had to create new criteria if they wanted new recommendations or why they could not vote on decisions to close schools or create new magnet schools individually. Munn emphasized that under the current governance structure he is in charge of following board policies, and cannot unilaterally close schools under any framework.
Board member Tramaine Duncan asked why Blueprint had only begun to face significant pushback from board members and the Aurora Education Association, which Munn said was involved with Blueprint’s implementation but currently has declined to take part in discussions with him.
A representative from AEA, which has been heavily involved in the effort to keep Sable and Paris open, could not immediately be reached for comment.
“From 2019 to 2021 where was the dislike for the Blueprint process from the board members that are against it now?” he asked.
Reinhard, Ortiz and Stephanie Mason said that the pandemic changed things since students have already experienced so much destabilization over the past several years and that previous Blueprint votes were also split.
Ortiz made a motion to abandon Blueprint, and Mason seconded. Reinhard voted in favor of the motion, board members Debbie Gerkin, Tramaine Duncan, Michael Carter and Anne Keke voted against it and the motion failed.
Keke said that if they voted to abandon Blueprint they would be following in the footsteps of Denver Public Schools, which is currently undergoing a long process of reversing track on decisions made in the past about how to manage schools.
After the vote failed, Gerkin introduced a motion to stay the course with Blueprint APS as it had been previously presented to the district. The motion passed, with Gerkin, Carter, Keke and Duncan voting in favor and Mason, Ortiz and Reinhard voting against. The vote was the same as the March vote with the exception of Duncan, who in March had voted to reject Munn’s recommendation.
At a community rally on Saturday, Duncan told The Sentinel that he did not support closing Sable and Paris but that he was not aware of a better plan than Blueprint APS for how to respond to declining enrollment.
“The hard truth is that we’re going to have to close schools, it’s just how we go about it that is important to me and important to the community,” he said.
The outcry regarding the initial recommendation made it clear to him that the board needs to do better in engaging the community and making sure they understand the process, he said.
The board took a short break after the vote, at which point audience members in the overflow room entered the conference room to ask for clarity about what the vote meant for school closures.
“No matter what was decided, schools will eventually close,” Gerkin said. Gerkin said she was sorry for how upsetting the vote was while people asked her when the last time she had been to Sable was.
After the break, the board moved onto other agenda items while Sable and Paris supporters gathered in the lobby to regroup.
“We’re not done talking,” one woman said.