School closures don’t happen often. But still, every year, some school systems will announce that they’re considering closures, and when they do happen, they’re hard on families. There’s no way around it: Seeing your school shut down is painful, and not knowing where your child will go to school in the fall is stressful, to say the least. That pain is compounded by the fact that school closures disproportionately affect communities of color and those that are economically disadvantaged.
As a public school parent, what do you need to know about school closures? And what can you do if you think your school is at risk?
What You Need to Know:
School closures are relatively rare. Just over 1 percent of public schools (including public charter schools) closed in 2015-16, the most recent year for which data is available. For any given school, it is an unlikely outcome. That said, both New Orleans and Boston have experienced school closures in recent years.
Some schools may be more susceptible to closure than others. Charter schools, for instance, have to go through a renewal process every few years, and can be closed if they are no longer meeting the state’s charter requirements. There is no similar mechanism for traditional district schools.
When schools do close, it is typically for one (or more) of a few possible reasons. Often, chronic poor performance is the culprit. Fiscal issues and financial mismanagement, problems with facilities (like buildings in disrepair), and under-enrollment can also be causes for closure.
There is usually advance warning. All of the above reasons for closure typically come with clear signals, and most closures require public notice and fairly lengthy formal processes involving the school board.
School closures rarely yield benefits for students in the short term, but they may contribute to the health of the school system over the long term. For families in closing schools, that provides little comfort. But there are strategies school systems (and families themselves) can put into practice that will help all students land in higher-performing schools.
What You Can Do:
Keep an eye out for early signs your school is at risk. Watch your school’s performance ratings over time. Chronically low or declining performance is a risk factor for closures (and it’s also a potential reason to consider moving schools regardless). Performance ratings are publicly available to families through state education websites; they’re often called “school report cards” or “school grades.” For families in Louisiana, school performance ratings are available here. Here’s where to look in Massachusetts.
Keep your contact information current. If your phone number, mailing address, or email address changes, make sure your school has the correct information on file so you won’t miss any updates.
In the event of a closure, consider all your options. If you’ve been enrolled at your neighborhood school, it might seem logical to hop to the next closest one. But it’s worth learning about all your options before you make a decision. Seek information about transportation—would your child be bused there, or have to use public transport or get a ride? What time would they leave and return? Are there non-public options available in your surrounding areas that could be made more accessible through financial aid? To keep your options open, make sure you move quickly to gather information on application deadlines, since non-public schools often operate on different timelines.
Understand your rights. You have the right to know what’s happening with the closure decision and the timeline. There should be opportunities for families to share their perspectives before a final decision is made (for example at a public forum or a school board meeting). When a closure does happen, don’t hesitate to ask questions, and make sure you understand any priority you’re given in the re-enrollment process. Take advantage of every opportunity by submitting your child’s school applications as early as possible, and apply to as many schools as you like to maximize your chances of getting a seat somewhere you will be happy.