Advocates against Indianapolis Public Schools’ plans to close Northwest High School, and three others in the district, issued a call to action for parents at Northwest – don’t take this closing lying down.

“We need you to start fighting for your young people,” Carrie Harris, an alumna of Crispus Attucks, told parents at Northwest on Wednesday night.

About 40 people attended Wednesday’s meeting, including Northwest students, family members, and several teachers, who said at the beginning of the meeting they would not speak to the press for fear of repercussions from the district.

Members of the IPS Community Coalition and other opponents of the school closings were also present. The coalition brings together religious groups such as Concerned Clergy of Indianapolis, education advocacy groups like Parent Power, as well as individual parents, educators, and concerned residents in the IPS district.

PHOTO: Hafsa Razi
IPS Community Coalition member Christina Smith urged parents to protest the school closing plan at upcoming IPS board meetings.

Along with answering questions about the proposed conversion of Northwest into a middle school, coalition members urged parents to voice their concerns at the IPS school board meeting at Northwest, which will be held on August 31. Facing low enrollment in IPS high schools, the school board will vote in September on the plan to close John Marshall and Broad Ripple high schools, and convert Arlington and Northwest into middle schools in the 2018-2019 school year.

“As parents we need to let them know, don’t sell off our district,” said coalition member and IPS parent Christina Smith.

Harris said she and her husband talked to several IPS board members who hadn’t made up their minds about the closing and wanted to hear more from parents, not just alumni like Harris.

“What we haven’t had, we haven’t had the parents come and stand up,” Harris said. “I will be there standing with you but you need to be there standing for your student.”

One Northwest parent, Patricia Starks, said she felt the district hasn’t been listening to what parents want.

“My son has been going here since seventh grade, this is all he knows. This year, he’s a junior, he’s doing excellent,” she said. “If they close Northwest, his senior year, he has to go somewhere else. He has to start all over, learning the teachers, the culture, everything.”

PHOTO: Hafsa Razi
Patricia Starks, whose son attends Northwest, said she’s concerned about where her son will go for his senior year if the school closes.

Before leaving the meeting, Starks signed up on a laptop to speak at the school board meeting next week.

Coalition members also spoke out against the expansion of innovation schools in IPS and the personal and financial ties of some board members to organizations that promote charter schools. Innovation schools are part of IPS but they are run by nonprofits or charter operators and their teachers are not employed by the district and aren’t part of the district’s union.

“Board members aren’t listening to parents because that’s not the voices they hear. They hear the voices of these groups like Stand for Children,” Smith said.  Stand for Children Indiana is a parent organizing group that often advocates for innovation schools. Stand also has endorsed and campaigned heavily for several current IPS board members.

Coalition members also argued that IPS has not considered any of the alternatives to closing these high schools, such as selling off the central office downtown for extra cash, placing community resources like health clinics in the unused wings of buildings with low enrollment, and committing to having high schools with small populations.

After the meeting, another parent, who did not want to be named, said she has very little idea about where her three children, in grades 11, 9, and 8, will go if Northwest closes. Her family immigrated from Nigeria last year, and she speaks limited English.

She said she currently walks her children to school, but appeared confused about how they would get to another school if Northwest closes – she doesn’t have a car to drive them to a school in another district, and she was unaware that IPS plans to provide buses to take students downtown.

The parent, and her older daughter who attended the meeting but does not go to Northwest, said Northwest is popular among the other families who live in their neighborhood, including many who came to the United States from Nigeria and other countries.

“Everybody goes to Northwest,” the daughter said. “… When we moved in, they said, come here, because they really liked this school.”

Census data show that nearly a quarter of residents in Northwest’s ZIP code area were born in other countries, and 35 percent speak a language other than English at home – about three times the rates in Indianapolis overall. IPS also plans to move its newcomer program, for recent immigrant students who don’t speak English, to Northwest if it converts to a middle school.

The mother said her children are doing well and they like their teachers; she does too. But despite her desire to keep her children at Northwest for high school, when asked if she would protest the closing at the school board meeting next week, she simply shook her head.

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect that fact that Stand for Children Indiana no longer donates directly to school board campaigns. The group does endorse and campaign on behalf of candidates. The update also clarifies that Stand often advocates for innovation schools.