The District government is investing $1 million in a feasibility study that will decide the fate of a soon-to-be-vacant magnet high school.
According to D.C Public Schools Deputy Press Secretary Ashlynn Profit, the study will determine whether Banneker High School’s current facility will be a good spot for a middle school.
Banneker High School is slated to move into the former Shaw Middle School property, closed in 2013 following low enrollment.
The study will also look at other sites in the neighborhood that could house a future middle school, Profit added.
“The feasibility study will include looking at both the current Banneker building and the Garnet-Patterson building – which is located in the Shaw neighborhood,” she said.
Controversy arose in the Shaw and Logan Circle communities over the summer when Mayor Muriel Bowser and D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Lewis Ferebee moved forward with the Banneker relocation plan.
City and school officials authorized moving Banneker High School into the Shaw Middle School property despite not having any middle schools in the area. A narrow city council vote against the move and a budget report this year had promised an alternative future for the middle school site.
In addition to the move, D.C. Public Schools and the Department of Parks and Recreation have decided to allow Banneker High School to use the park space next to the property.
According to Profit, a memorandum of agreement between DCPS and DPS will allow Banneker to use the property for programming such as sporting-related and recreational events.
The Washington Post stated in a June article that under federal law, charter schools in D.C that are considered high performing and financially stable get first dibs at vacant public schools.
Coincidentally, Banneker High School fits most of those requirements since it is a charter school that has the highest standardized test scores and advanced placement scores in the District, according to U.S. News Ranking test scores.
But residents say they feel betrayed by the District school system because they believed a renovated middle school was near certain.
At an Advisory Neighborhood Commission meeting in October, Commissioner Jason Forman proposed reopening Shaw Middle School in Banneker High School’s soon-to-be vacant location by 2021. Now Forman says he is unsure whether his ward’s efforts were in vain.
“Since our proposal has no time limit attached to it, technically the mayor never has to look at it or get back to us, which could be problematic,” he said.
According to a DCist’s article, some of the City Council members made a similar proposal earlier this year for a school swap between the middle school site and the high school site.
D.C. Public Schools Press Secretary Shayne Wells said the school system is still deciding how best to satisfy the neighborhood’s request for a middle school. He added that D.C. Public Schools wants every student in the district to be suited with the best academic opportunities.
“We are still exploring all our options in that aspect,” he said. “We have a mayor and chancellor that wants the best educational options for students,” Wells said.
In addition to exploring options, Wells also said that, during Banneker’s building process, he wants the community to remember that they are vital too and that he wants their input on what they want out of a future middle school.
“Along the next two years, the community will be included in the outlook, academic facets and overall process,” he said.
Jason Clock, an ANC commissioner for education, supported the decision to move Banneker to the middle school and directed anyone in the neighborhood who was upset with the decision or wanted a new middle school to speak directly with the mayor.
“I trust in Mayor Bowser to make the right decisions if they felt it was right then it probably was, and it’s been long overdue and if there’s anything you feel like you want changed, just talk to the mayor. She is open to listen,” Clock said.
A groundbreaking event, held in September, finalized Banneker’s spot at Shaw Middle School.
At the event, some people had their own ideas of ways to accommodate the residents that wanted a new middle school in the neighborhood.
Rhonda Henderson, a Banneker High School alumna, said the neighborhood should scout for buildings and use Banneker’s old location as an option. She even proposed that the students could just stay at Cardozo High School in Columbia Heights where the middle schoolers in the area are currently being sent for school.
However, Mo Maraqa, a dog owner and volunteer at the Shaw Dog Park, took what the D.C. Public Schools said in providing the community with a middle school with a grain of salt. He said City Council was dishonest and lost his trust.
“They told me they weren’t going to make many changes to the dog park and, next thing you know, they tell me they are going to shut it down and make it smaller,” Maraqa said referring to the city’s plan to reshape the dog park upon renovating the Shaw Middle School property. “Maybe the middle school would be better suited to the area, but, once again, they weren’t very transparent.”
According to Evelyn Boyd, president of the Logan Circle Community Association, there was never supposed to be a negotiation when a middle school was promised for the area.
“I think it is a bad decision to build a charter high school instead of a neighborhood middle school,” Boyd said.