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School Closings Announced, Protested in Philadelphia

More than 17,000 students in Philadelphia may be moving to new schools next year. Last week, the 146,000-student district unveiled a plan to close 37 buildings and to relocate or change the grade distribution in several others. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that under the district's plan one in six of the district's schools would close: 22 elementary schools, four middle schools, and 11 high schools.

Serious budget woes and declining school enrollment led the district to this point. This restructuring has been in the works for a while; last spring, the Boston Consulting Group recommended that the district close as many as 40 schools in a plan to restructure and cut costs, which can be found through the district's website. Here is a Q&A about the closings with superintendent William Hite, who's in his first year at the district.

Closing schools is always a difficult—and often emotional—proposition. In Philadelphia, as in Chicago, some community members fear violence in the wake of the closings. The Philadelphia Public School Notebook reported on Friday about a community meeting at which parents reported such concerns to Hite. (The meeting began with a moment of silence for the victims of the tragic school shooting in Newtown, Conn.) Parent groups are also lodging complaints against the BCG for its work in creating the plan. Parent and student groups in Chicago, Philadelphia, and Washington were among a number of groups that filed civil rights complaints earlier this year alleging that the closings disproportionately affect minority students. The district will hold three more meetings, including one tonight, about the plan.

Other large urban districts also have closings on the horizon. Last month, the District of Columbia school system announced that about one in six of its schools—that's 20 schools—would close . A spokeswoman from the New York City schools told me earlier this fall that the district was "in conversation" with 36 struggling elementary and middle schools, including two charter schools.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Public Schools' deadline for announcing which schools would close next year was recently extended until March 31. The district was initially required to announce school actions by early December, but CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett requested an extension. There's still confusion and concern about the district's plan. Byrd-Bennett created a Commission on School Utilization (also meeting tonight) that will make recommendations about the closures.

The fate of the buildings that close remains contentious in all of these cities, where the growth of charter schools and other nontraditional public options has caused some of the underenrollment that leads to the closings. Philadelphia just received a grant from the Gates Foundation aimed at fostering district-charter collaboration.

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