A battle over inequality and “sub-standard” resources that has a community group taking over a Central District schoolhouse slated for a significant construction project may finally have reached a point of solution. Wednesday night the Seattle School Board will consider and vote on a proposal that will give community groups currently in control of the district’s Horace Mann building at 23rd and Cherry access to Seattle Schools-funded portables on the Mann campus and rooms at another district facility.
In September, Seattle Public Schools told us it was working out a deal with the Central District community groups using the Horace Mann building. It’s November and the old school house lined up for a major renovation is still filled with community groups who said they’re not going anywhere — even if it puts a major wrinkle in the SPS plans to move programs there to make way for the $14.2 million project to rebuild Capitol Hill’s Meany Middle School.
The groups were told to vacate multiple times since summer so renovations could begin to make way for a planned return of the Nova Alternative High School return next fall, Central District News reports. Grassroots community group More 4 Mann continues to operate out of the building, according to CDN. The revelation prompted the Seattle Times to go on the offensive as the paper called More 4 Mann “squatters” and called for the groups to be removed from the building.
More 4 Mann, however, says it is doing much more than squatting in the building:
We want to continue to show the unified community of African-American parents, educators and students working together to take responsibility for the education of our children.Now is the time to rectify the past inequities and ineffective methods to educate our children.We will no longer accept and allow sub-standard resources, results, programs and policies directed to our young scholars.
Saturday, More 4 Mann scheduled an afternoon press conference “to announce the positive educational outcomes and programs that our community will offer and our exciting forthcoming partnership with Seattle Public Schools.”
The proposal to be considered by the board later this week would cost approximately $1,120, according to Seattle Schools staff.
The proposal also describes how the situation played out over the summer:
To support community work and to utilize the closed Mann school, Seattle Public Schools had a lease with Peoples Family Life for the Mann building. Peoples Family Life had sublet a portion of their space to Seattle Amistad School and allowed other community organizations to use the building for their programming. Since the spring of 2013, Superintendent Banda and staff have attended community meetings, visited the programs and met with community members and the people using the Mann building. The lease expired on June 15, 2013 and due to the passage of BEX IV, it was not renewed because NOVA School is now scheduled to return to the Mann building for the 2014-15 school year. Construction was anticipated to start on September 1, 2013.
The District allowed Seattle Amistad School to stay at the building after June 15, 2013 to provide them with more time to find a suitable location, notifying them that the building needed to be vacated by August 15, 2013. In turn, Seattle Amistad School continued to allow portions of the building to be used by community groups for community work. On August 15, Seattle Amistad School moved to another location, but the community groups stayed and occupied the building to continue their programs. They felt strongly that the Mann building holds an important place in the African-American cultural history of the Central District and represents an important symbol for the education of African-American youth in Seattle Public Schools. In meetings with district staff, they expressed their view that the district was failing to educate their students and had broken many past promises regarding programs for African-American youth. The District did not execute a lease or other agreement with these groups.
The document also makes it clear that Schools doesn’t necessarily have the upper hand in the current situation:
At this time, the District does not control the building. Individuals associated with AfricaTown Center for Education & Innovation continue to occupy the Horace Mann building, and have chained the building from the inside. The District continues to provide heat and electricity to the building.
The alternative option should the board decide the lease would be a violation of policy?
Do not approve the lease, in which case the District will need to take legal action or request the police to forcibly remove the individuals occupying the Mann Building. This likely would have adverse impacts on the District’s relationships with the community.
According to the proposal, the groups entering into the agreement would be on the hook for $7,000 in rent to cover the district facilities.