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Siebert Elementary students protest potential closure, parents ask questions at consolidation forum

A hand-drawn and decorated sign reads "Keep Siebert Open"
Allie Vugrincic
Students from Siebert Elementary School carry signs in to Parsons Library during a Columbus City Schools meeting about school building consolidation. Siebert is one of 20 school suggested for closure in nine different consolidation scenarios.

A line of students carrying signs reading, “I am the face of Siebert,” and, “I am not a number,” filed past the windows of the meeting room and into Parsons Library.

Seemingly the entire school had come to the Thursday morning community forum for Columbus City Schools' initial consolidation plan.

The students didn’t fit in the meeting space, so they clustered in the main library area and waited patiently as the meeting kicked off. The event – a peaceful, quite protest – was a last-minute school field trip.

Columbus City Schools is holding a number of forums to collect community feedback on nine consolidation plans proposed by the volunteer Superintendent’s Facilities Task Force. Each scenario would see three or four buildings closed and the students at those schools relocated.

The first two meetings were Thursday morning at Parsons Library near Merion Village and Shepherd Library on the east side.

After collecting community feedback, the Facilities Task Force is supposed to present a final recommendation to the Board of Education in June. They could suggest just one scenario be enacted, or several. The district stressed that the task force's recommendations are not final, and it will be up to the board to make the ultimate decision.

"We’re getting more context as to what's really going on in these buildings and how full and all that. And so that's so this is fantastic."
- Kevin Orr, CCS Superintendent's Facilities Task Force

But at Thursday’s meeting at Parsons, parents – mostly with students at Siebert – questioned the data the task force used to make their initial recommendations.

Siebert would close in two scenarios. Parents argued that the school is safe, diverse and performs well in terms of academics.

Siebert 5th grade teacher Shannon Duffey lead about a dozen students into the meeting room. She said around 390 students attend the school. Of those, around 260 are dual language learners. Together, the students speak 14 languages and come from 25 countries.

“We are a melting pot. Our children have embraced their differences, celebrated their cultures and have learned more from each other than we could ever teach them,” Duffey said.

She said the children are comfortable and questioned why leadership would take their peace away.

After Duffey spoke, all of the students passed through the meeting room before heading back to school. Meeting attendees clapped and some students chanted softly, “save our schools.”

In addition to housing a diverse student body, Siebert is the district’s most utilized building, operating at about 120% capacity, according to data from Columbus City Schools. Several speakers questioned why Siebert would be closed instead of emptier buildings.

Kevin Orr, with the task force, admitted that the data they used to select buildings might not have been an “accurate reflection of the reality on the ground.”

"We’re getting more context as to what's really going on in these buildings and how full and all that. And so this is fantastic,” Orr said. “We're hearing from the people, ‘that's not going to work.’ So, that's going to cause us to rethink the scenarios.”

But parents were less upbeat. Siebert parent Anna Gawboy said she felt “betrayed” by the recommendations to close 20 buildings, especially after she was so supportive of the district’s roughly $100 million levy last November.

"This whole process seems very rushed. It seems like there is not enough information for the board to make responsible decisions," Gawboy said.

Orr revealed that the task force did not walk through any of the buildings recommended for closure, though it did hold meetings at some of CCS’ other schools.

Seibert parent Katie Sinclair said that was frustrating.

“We all have to understand how wild it is to have made these decisions without speaking through or talking to or seeing the facility,” Sinclair said.

Duxberry parent Rita Hallaveid didn’t get a chance to speak during the hour-long meeting, but said afterward that she felt the task force had not been looking at the “important data.”

“These solutions should be driven by the communities that are impacted. There’s a lot of equity issues and integration that isn’t factored in,” Hallaveld said.

She said she’s also disappointed that the district didn’t allow more time for public comment and set the meetings for May.

“This is the busiest month of the year for families with kids at school,” Hallaveld said. “And there's not a single event happening on a weekend before school that's out.”

"This whole process seems very rushed. It seems like there is not enough information for the board to make responsible decisions."
- Siebert Elementary parent Anna Gawboy

Neither CCS Superintendent Angela Chapman or any of the members of the board of education were at the meeting at Parsons, but other representatives of the district were present and answered questions.

The district will have several more community forums. They are scheduled as follows:

  • May 22 at 10:30 a.m. at the Whetstone Recreation Center
  • May 23 at 9:30 a.m. at the Barnett Recreation Center and Community Grounds Cafe
  • May 23 at 5:30 p.m. at Olde Orchard Elementary School and Briggs High School
  • May 30 at 9:30 a.m. at Schiller Park Recreation Center and Bottoms Up Coffee Cafe
  • May 30 at 5:30 p.m. at the CEC Assembly Room and the C.R.I.S. building at 4645 Executive Drive
  • June 1 at 11 a.m. for a Radio One Town Hall live on power 107.5 and 106.3 FM and Magic 95.5 FM

The district will also hold virtual events on May 22 and 29 at 11:30 a.m.
Final recommendations will be made to the board of education in June.

Allie Vugrincic has been a radio reporter at WOSU 89.7 NPR News since March 2023.