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Editorial: If Faith closes, ensure smooth transition for students

Last week brought a school closure proposal that was a shock to the system for many parents, teachers and students. The school system should seek to ease that shock.

Not only has Rowan-Salisbury School Board Chairman Josh Wagner drafted a plan to shutter Faith Elementary, but his plan would do so at the end of this school year, giving staff, parents and students just a few months to prepare.

Enochville has slightly longer — one year — but that elementary school could suffer the same fate.

Sure, there are good elements to Wagner’s plan. It, perhaps permanently, puts off closure of North Rowan High School by placing a career and technical center there in addition to the standard high school curriculum. It does not burden county coffers to the same extent as previous proposals — $60 million is a lot better than hundreds of millions. And, while we think Faith Elementary still has a good case for remaining open, we understand the need to rein in maintenance costs for aging buildings. As birth rates have declined, there are simply too many elementary schools in Rowan County and empty seats in the system.

But, if approved, we think a bit more advanced warning about closure would go a long way toward easing the transition.

Just think about the potential timeline.

The Rowan-Salisbury School Board could hear information relevant to closing Faith Elementary at its next meeting — March 25 at 5 p.m. Would it be ready to hold the required public hearing then? Maybe. Though, hearing the information and holding the required public hearing on the same night is an inappropriate way to close a 90-year-old institution.

A public hearing in April, if a vote to close occurs on the same night, gives students and parents between one and two months before the last-ever day of class at Faith Elementary.

Some parents may say moving from Faith to Koontz is OK, but, as evidenced by the size of the group opposed to the change, we think many parents will be interested in making alternative arrangements for their children — whether it’s within RSS or in a elsewhere. And, as an institution whose primary duty is to educate students, we think RSS should give parents the opportunity to make alternative arrangements within the school system. There may be ways to do that without altering Wagner’s plan.

At a minimum, the school system should ensure its “student reassignment” tab contains information for the upcoming school year so parents are aware of the transfer window has passed. At present, the website states the transfer window for the 2017-2018 school year.

Eventually, the school board will need to make the tough call to close schools, but it cannot consider years of discussions about possible closures adequate warning. Students are most important, and the closure plan must ensure a smooth transition for them.

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