When the School District of Philadelphia removed the Morton McMichael Elementary from the list of schools that would close at the end of the year, parents of students at the school were thrilled.
“I was almost brought to tears,” Angela Jones said.
Jones, who lives on 34th Street near McMichael, walks her 6-year-old daughter to school each morning.
“When they were going to close the school, my daughter would have had to walk 20 something blocks to one of the other schools, twice a day,” Jones said. “I think they realized they couldn’t ask these children to do this alone or that it would be unfair to ask parents to have to figure it (transportation) out themselves.”
Jones, who doesn’t own a car, would have had to accompany her first grader to and from school, which she said wouldn’t have been realistic.
“They were so concerned with the financial aspect that they didn’t even think about how this would affect the people, but most importantly the children,” she said. “I have a job that I go to after she goes to school and am finished in time so that I can walk her home.”
DeWayne Drummonds, president of the Mantua Civic Association, said the McMichael School is isolated from others in the community. Drummonds said he believes this isolation was one of the main reasons school district officials decided to keep the school open.
“They realized that they couldn’t ask these kids to walk great deals of length to go to school,” Drummonds said. “It would have been especially difficult during the winter when parents would have to either drive or use public transportation and that would not have been fair.”
When McMichael was originally listed closure, officials at that school and parents created a community meeting report to send to the School Reform Commission to consider in its decision. The report stated that in the event the school closed, students who would transfer to Martha Washington Elementary School would have to walk 11 blocks, which is the equivalent to 21 minutes on foot. This route would also force the students to cross Lancaster Avenue, which officials said is one of the busiest arteries in the area.
Students who would have transferred to Mya Middle School would have had to walk 22 blocks. These students also would have been forced to cross Lancaster Avenue.
Finally, the students who would have attended the Alain Locke Elementary School would have had to walk 17 blocks. These students would have also had to cross Lancaster Avenue.
“It would have been unacceptable to ask these kids to walk over a mile to and from school each day,” Darby Robbins said.
Robbins, a Mantua resident, has a granddaughter in fourth grade at McMichael. She said that it would have put more pressure on parents, which would eventually affect the school district.
“Parents are busy getting ready in the morning,” Robbins said. “If they had to walk their kids to school, or even drive them, that would just be too time consuming,” she said. “I know many people who would be up at the district complaining.”
According to the school district, Samuel Powel and Charles R. Drew Elementary Schools are closer to McMichael than Washington, Mya and Locke. However, Powel is at maximum capacity due to its high-achieving status and Drew was closed last year.
Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, noted in a recent media interview that the school district is required to provide transportation for students who have to travel further than 1.5 mile, or if they have to cross a road that the state government considers hazardous. According to Jordan, McMichael is approximately 1.3 miles from both Washington and Locke. The state did not deem Lancaster Avenue dangerous. Therefore, transportation would not have been necessary.
According to the community meeting report presented to school district officials, McMichael has not seen a drastic decrease in enrollment over the past five years. While it lost six students at the end of the 2012 school year, it actually gained 30 students between the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 school years. The report also states that it saw an increase of nine students during the current school year, bringing the total number of students to 377.
“The other parents I talked to didn’t understand why the school was originally closing,” Angela Jones said. “We thought they were closing the ones that had low enrollment, but I was told we gained students.”
According to statistics on the school district’s website, enrollment at McMichael is not much different than Washington. For example, Washington gained nine students in the past two years, which brings the total enrollment to 389.
Locke, however, has seen an increase of 79 students during the past two years, which brings the total enrollment to 516.
While Jones and Robbins said they are happy McMichael will remain open next year, they both agree it is bittersweet.
“I feel bad for the people who weren’t so lucky,” Jones said.
“Maybe they’ll hear some good news,” Robbins said. “You never know.”
The School District of Philadelphia and the Morton McMichael Elementary School did not respond to requests for comment.