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State Pushes Back Time Line For School Closures

Lori Higgins , Detroit Free Press

The State of Michigan is putting off making a decision on whether to close as many as 38 chronically failing schools, according to a news release from Gov. Rick Snyder's office this afternoon.

Snyder has asked that all decisions be ready by May, though some could be announced sooner. Originally, the state had said final decisions on closure would come late this month or early March.

"The entire team at the School Reform Office has worked diligently to analyze data, visit schools and review potential options, but we need to do more before any final decisions can be made," Snyder said in the news release.

"Any action we take will have long-lasting consequences, and we need to take the time to get this right," Snyder said.

The move to delay could leave parents scrambling to enroll their kids in different schools if the state does close schools, but some said the delay is also an opportunity for the state to make the right decisions.

The state last month identified the 38 schools for potential closure because they've ranked in the bottom 5% academically for three straight years.

But the identification of the schools has touched off outrage across the state. Rallies and town hall meetings have been held to push back against the potential closures — including a rally and march planned in Lansing on Friday. The Detroit Public Schools Community District has threatened a lawsuit. And Kalamazoo Public Schools and the Saginaw Public Schools Board of Education filed a lawsuit this week against the state.

Of the 38 schools on the list, 25 of them are located in Detroit — 16 are part of the Detroit district, eight are part of the state reform district, the Education Achievement Authority, and one is a charter school.

Alycia Meriweather, the interim superintendent of the Detroit district, said she appreciates Snyder's willingness to explore solutions besides closure.

"Our stance remains that closing school buildings under these circumstances will create unnecessary hardships for our families," Meriweather said. "However, we are committed to addressing struggling programs in schools."

Said Tonya Allen, president and CEO of the Skillman Foundation: "I hope that the delay is a recognition that the way the state was handling school closures was ineffective and that there was not sufficient time to address the issue."

Allen added, "You have to be really clear with schools about what is occurring, what’s happening to them. And you should talk to the school districts which will be affected before you release the list."

The state also needs to take the time to analyze which schools children can enroll in "that would not be a burden on them or a hardship upon them in terms of travel and availability," Allen said. "And then, you ought to have a process in place that actually would help these children and their families navigate and go to these schools."

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