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Grand Forks parents speak out after school district cancels West kindergarten class

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Parents who were supposed to send their kindergarteners to West Elementary School in Grand Forks are worried the elimination of the class will have long-term impacts.

"I'm not prepared to send my child to that school now, but now I don't have a choice," Diana Duchscherer told Grand Forks Public School Board members Monday.

Duchscherer was one of two parents with kindergarteners slated to attend West who spoke during Monday's meeting. It was the first time the board met since parents were informed the class would be canceled.

The northside school at 615 N. 25th St. was expected to have seven students in its fall kindergarten class, so administration decided to cancel the class due to low enrollment numbers, according to the school district.

The children were moved to other buildings, including Winship Elementary School.

The board did not have a say in the decision because school policy allows administration to add and eliminate classes in certain situations.

School Board member Shannon Mikula made a motion to discuss the policy, but all board members except Mikula voted against the move. The board is slated to discuss the matter at its next meeting.

Board member Eric Lunn was not present.

Impact on families

Duchscherer said her son who was supposed to attend West as a kindergartener has difficulties with change. She spent all summer preparing him to attend the school, including walking to West with him so he would know where it is, she said.

Now he doesn't know where his school is, and she is not familiar with the staff or teachers at the new building, she said.

"Three weeks prior to school starting, we are back to square one," she said.

She said she has other children who could attend the school, but she is afraid they will not be able to attend the school if the kindergarten grade never comes back. Driving her children to two separate schools is not a viable option for her, she said.

"The impact is not just one child from one family," she said. "It could be exponentially huge."

The district intended the cancellation to be a one-year decision, spokeswoman Tracy Jentz said. The class will return if there are enough students to make up the grade.

Duchscherer questioned the logistics of the kindergarten class returning to West.

"I'm going to say something that is probably not going to be popular, and I know you guys were not aware of this decision, but is this the first step in closing a northside school?" she asked.

The district is reviewing its master facilities plan, and consultants have drawn up scenarios that suggest consolidating several schools, including West.

Grand Forks Neighborhood Schools Alliance spokeswoman Whitney Berry understands it is not efficient to have a class with seven children, but she questioned whether the short-term benefits outweigh the long-term impacts. Some parents may choose to move all of their children to one school, which could further diminish West's population.

Berry does not have children that attend West, but her group that is an advocate for neighborhood schools reached out to West parents after the decision to cancel the kindergarten class.

She also asked whether a decision like this should be left to administration instead of going to the board or seeking input from the public.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

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