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In-depth: Parents worry about school closures

SALT LAKE CITY — Parents at M. Lynn Bennion Elementary are worried that the Salt Lake City School District may close the school because of declining enrollment. But as with other elementaries that have closed or are going to close, district officials say it’s more than just a story about numbers. It’s about the kids.

Parent and School Community Council Chair Carrie Chalverus, whose two girls attend Bennion, says many kids don’t have advocates to speak up for them.

“These are kids that come from really tough backgrounds. They have endured trauma. We have 45 students from [the] shelter at the Y, which includes battered women,” she said. “They need something that’s stable in their world.”

Bennion Elementary is in the area of 4th South and 8th East, and more businesses and restaurants and stores fill the blocks around it than homes now. The enrollment has declined every year. There are currently around 200 students at Bennion, whereas the largest elementary school in the district has around 600.

Chalverus says Bennion’s student population is roughly 70 percent minority, and 98 percent low-income.

She worries about how Bennion students would get to another elementary if this one closes because many families don’t have cars and may live just outside the busing distance to another school. And she worries whether they will be included and involved at a new place.

“It’s phenomenal how included these children feel. They have high expectations but meet them where they are at,” she said.

It’s a similar argument Bountiful parents made in the Davis School district against Washington Elementary closing, and students being shifted to other schools.

Parent Kelli Rapp is worried that Washington students will not be accepted at other schools. She told the school board about one student whose clothing was sometimes askew.

“Everyone’s accepted at Washington. When he goes to his new school, I’m sure there will be jokes and people will make fun of him. He will be belittled. That’s what Washington students are going to face when they go (to a) particular school,” she said.

Washington’s Community Council Chairman Mitch Davis said many families rely on the food resources offered by the school as well.

But Davis Board members and the superintendent tried to be reassuring after their final vote.

“We care about every student we serve, every family we serve, and always will. It’s our goal for all kids to succeed,” said Davis Superintendent Reid Newey.

The Salt Lake School Board has not yet decided on Bennion’s future. They just got the report from the Building Usage Committee on Tuesday night spelling out several options, of which closing Bennion is just one. Salt Lake City District Spokesperson Yandary Chatwin told Utah’s Morning News that the board wants more data to analyze.

“All these decisions will be taken in to account. Public comment will be taken into account,” she said.