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4 Salt Lake City elementary schools will close. Here’s what happens next

Salt Lake City School District Board of Education members and Superintendent Elizabeth Grant sit on the stage in the West High School’s auditorium, Jan. 9, 2024.
Martha Harris
Salt Lake City School District Board of Education members and Superintendent Elizabeth Grant sit on the stage in the West High School’s auditorium, Jan. 9, 2024.

In a 4-3 board vote that ended a nearly year-long, contentious process, the Salt Lake City School District will permanently close four elementary schools after this academic year.

Two east-side schools, Hawthorne and M. Lynn Bennion, and two west-side schools, Mary W. Jackson and Riley, will be closed. Many parents at the Jan. 9 board meeting were concerned and uncertain about what would happen next.

After the vote, one person booed the board members as people walked out West High School’s auditorium. Other community members looked emotional.

The impacts will be felt district-wide.

Current Hawthorne students will be assigned to Emerson or Whittier elementaries. Mary W. Jackson will be split between Backman, Rose Park and Washington elementaries. Bennion students will go to either Liberty, Emerson, Wasatch or Uintah elementaries. And Riley families will be assigned to Edison, Mountain View, Parkview or Franklin elementaries.

Fourteen elementary schools will also have their boundaries changed. The district said it will reach out to impacted families via email by Jan. 12. Some enrolled in special programs, like Magnet Gifted and Talented or Dual Language Immersion, will also be affected.

Superintendent Elizabeth Grant said the district will create a memorandum of understanding with the YWCA Utah, a nearby domestic violence shelter, so the district can best serve the students and families there. Bennion Elementary currently serves those students.

Utah is an “open enrollment” state, so parents can apply to send their children to a school other than the one they’re assigned to.

The closures follow declining student enrollments — which is a national trend, as Grant pointed out at the board meeting. A 2022 audit chastised the district for keeping so many elementary schools open.

Parents fought until the very end to convince board members to hold off on closing schools. Since the beginning, parents complained about a lack of transparency and expressed frustrations with how the district has communicated this process.

“We acknowledge that schools need to close due to various factors, and I'm not here to advocate just for Hawthorne. I'm here to advocate for a more open process with early community input in the difficult task of closing schools,” parent Troy Davis told board members during the meeting. “Don't vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on this plan tonight. Instead, I respectfully request the board make a motion to table the initial recommendations.”

Board members Mohamed Baayd, Bryce Williams and Kristi Swett all voted against closing the schools. Members Ashley Anderson, Jenny Sika, Bryan Jensen and board president Nate Salazar voted in favor of the closures.

Baayd said board members and the district could’ve done better with conveying accurate information. Since students are still recovering from the educational impact of the pandemic, he thought they should hold off. Williams and Swett both said there needed to be more transparency, and Williams voiced concerns about how this would impact west side families.

“Now, while I believe there was careful effort to be transparent, I am hearing that families are are not seeing transparency and we must lean into this. If we cannot get buy-in from our community around transparency that gives me great concern in making a decision like this tonight,” Williams said.

Parent Mallika Filtz told the board how this process was handled has led to a “corrosion of trust” between the public and the district. But those who voted in favor of closing schools trusted that the process had been carried out to the best of its ability. They also said having too many schools open would be inequitable, hurt students and hurt the district.

As the district moves forward, Grant said it is committed to supporting students and families in this transition, and will communicate early and often. For those students whose schools are closing, Grant said the goal will be not just to welcome them in, but to create “a new, different school.”

Martha is KUER’s education reporter.
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