How We Got Here
How this Began
Lynchburg City Schools began a Facilities Master Plan recently to determine the best vision and learning opportunities for students in our public school system. By looking at educational needs, current facilitates, and community feedback. In 2018, Lynchburg City Schools hired Dominion 7, an architecture firm in Lynchburg, to evaluate every school in the city for capital improvements. The city also asked them for recommendations on how to improve the physical infrastructure.
Dominion 7 evaluated the buildings and reported that every building is in disrepair due to the city failing to make capital improvements on a yearly basis. In their analysis, they gave every school a rating. Every elementary school is below an 80, with most in the high 60s to low 70s.
Dominion 7 also included utilization percentages to inform whether the district had too many classrooms. We detail our critiques on their analysis on the 'Decision Critiques' page.
In their findings, Dominion 7 states there are 20 extra elementary school classrooms in the district. This analysis influenced their recommendations for the district.
Dominion 7 presented three recommendations: build new larger schools, close multiple schools and build a new school, and close multiple schools and make safety repairs.
From these recommendations, Lynchburg hired MGT Educational Consulting in May 2022 to give multiple scenarios for school closures and improvements. In June 2023, MGT presented four scenarios that included closing, repurposing, and renovating schools. The scenarios all included re-zoning for close to home, improving elementary buildings, expanding pre-k options, expanding CTE, and removing portable classrooms.
The city had four community meetings to gather input on what scenario they supported, and 70% of the community voted for Scenario 1.
At this point, no closures are expected until 2025 and teachers at schools then proposed for closure were told their schools would not be closing. This all changed when Dr. Day of the Finance Committee individually orchestrated a plan for school closures. He created a fifth scenario - close the two magnet schools, T. C. Miller and Dearington Schools of Innovation.
The district is facing a 7.2 million dollar deficit. Dr. Day saw a short-term problem and presented a long term solution of closing schools without a thoughtful analysis or consideration.
September 5th School Board Meeting
Students speaking to the school board in a packed room on September 5th
When school board members entered the meeting room they were greeted by a packed room, hallway, and lobby. You could feel the anger and frustration from the community.
Everyone from students, teachers, parents, community members, and community leaders spoke. The school board extended the public comment period twice after calls from leaders.
Speech after speech, individuals expressed their concerns. How is this decision equitable? Why these two neighborhood schools that serve low-income communities of color? What will happen to the teachers? What about the students? What will happen to the programs? Why is one man able to present his own scenario that had no community feedback?
The school board felt the pressure of the packed room, of the students staring at them, and of the leaders present and they decided to table the vote and to discuss it further with more details during their next working session.
September 19th Working Session
On September 19th, the school board met to discuss the proposed closure of T. C. Miller and Dearington Schools of Innovation. The beginning of the meeting seemed orchestrated. One by one, Dr. Gupta and Superintendent Edwards negated every proposed solution and concern that was shared with them. Their responses were factually inaccurate at points, showed a lack of consideration, and were dismissive. They did not actually investigate any of the proposals, and ignored them because it did not fit in their agenda.
While the school board stated in their previous meeting that the working session was to brainstorm ideas, investigate new information, and discuss possible decisions, they came in with their minds set on voting not finding the best solutions.
Dr. Day proposed his own version of Scenario 3 - closing T. C. Miller, closing Sandusky, and requesting 15 million for an expansion to William Bass Elementary School, not the proposed expansions by MGT.
He did this individually (and remotely/virtually) without amending the agenda, without an opportunity for public comment, and without breaking down any of the costs, numbers, or financial complexity within this proposal. Additionally, the fact that it does not even close the deficit, which is the driving force, was ignored.
Sandusky had no notice that Dr. Day was going to make this proposal and their administrators, staff, students, and families were blindsided.
In response to Dr. Day's motion, members wanted to slow down. Dr. Carter of Ward 2 put forth an opposing motion, Scenario 1, since that is the situation 70% of the community chose.
Unable to get a majority of the members to vote in favor, the board reverted back to Dr. Day's motion.
All together, the entire conversation lasted less than an hour, with Scenario 3 discussed for less than 40 minutes. Dr.Gupta, the chair, called a vote while discussions and solutions were still being processed. Multiple board members, who ultimately voted against the proposal, asked to not rush the decision-making process so that more data could be understood. However, the vote was pushed forward and the proposal passed, 5-4.
“This decision will affect students for decades. Deciding without adequate data, without actually engaging with the community and staff, and without examining the short and long-term ramifications of closures is reckless. Our students, families, and staff deserve more than an hour long conversation.” - Carly Schaffer
One reason there is such backlash to the school board's decision is that they and the administration had no plan. They left everyone with questions and uncertainty about their future.
What will happen to the teachers? There will be a reduction in positions. Who will be affected? How will they be affected?
Over 600 students will be displaced. Where will they go? How much will class sizes increases? Will they have the same quality education?
Teachers at Sandusky on September 20th after the school board voted to close the school
T. C. Miller is a magnet school. Where will the programs go? We want more than surface level promises. We want a plan, not just for innovation, but for a magnet program.
MGT stated that school culture is vital to students' success. How will they continue the vibrant culture these schools have?
We discuss these questions more on the 'Decision Critiques' page, and how the city has no plan.
Continued Community Efforts
"We believe that the School Board's decision to close TC Miller and Sandusky Elementary Schools was unjust and harmful to not only our children but to all Elementary Students in LCS. We are asking the court to review the School Board's decision and overturn it.” - Colleen Larkins
After the school board's decision, Save our Schools only got bigger, and we continue to expand. Although the school board and city administrators state they want community input, they only listen to input that supports their decision.
Since they continue to show they will not listen. Save our Schools took further steps and filed an appeal with the circuit court on October 19th, that the decision was made in an arbitrary and capricious manner, and was not in the best interests of the students or the community.