Francis Howell Parents Air Concerns, Fears About Pending Transfers
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COTTLEVILLE, Mo. (KMOX) - Parents packed into the Francis Howell Central High gymnasium Thursday night and howled against plans to bus students from struggling Normandy into their neighborhood.
Superintendent Dr. Pam Sloan told parents that the transferring students’ performance will indeed be included as part of Francis Howell’s state test score results.
The familiar standing ovation with boos ensued.
The Missouri Supreme Court last month upheld a decades-old state law allowing students in unaccredited districts to transfer. Normandy chose to send its buses to Francis Howell; Riverview Gardens intends to go to Mehlville. But families can apply to any district, so long as they provide their own transportation.
Francis Howell will receive $11,000 tuition, out of Normandy’s budget, for each transfer it is forced to accept. Sloan estimated the total revenue could fall between $1.6 and 2 million.
MORE THAN MISBEHAVIOR
Beth Cirami vocalized the fears of much of the nearly 3,000 people.
“I deserve to not have to worry about my children getting stabbed, or taking a drug, or getting robbed,” she said.
Demands included metal detectors, drug sniffing dogs, and armed guards. Many parents wondered whether they would have to purchase clear, see-through backpacks for their children.
One said the reason they’re fearful of the Normandy children is the same reason why MetroLink expansions into St. Charles County have been rejected; a certain population “coming across on our side of the bridge, bringing with it everything that we’re fighting today against.”
Renee Blake drew a dissonance of cheers and jeers when she declared, “I am totally appalled that we have now gone back to 1954,”
A man in the audience shouted that she should “go back to Normandy.” But Blake said she had raised her kids in the Francis Howell district since 2001, and recalled seeing many audience members at soccer games.
She also said that St. Charles County is not immune to trouble, mentioning drug problems and vandalism, adding that the teenagers responsible “didn’t look like me. They looked like you.”
But Tiffany Gregory, another African-American mother who’d recently moved her family to Francis Howell from north county, dismissed any insinuation of racism.
She said her black son was threatened by an Asian at his old school.
“It’s not about being black or white, it’s about what a child may be taught. Normandy is not performing in their own district, so you bring them to Francis Howell so that Francis Howell comes down,” Gregory said.
She predicted an exodus from the district if the arrangement stuck.
Another father questioned how to discern the backgrounds of transfers from the dangerous district, saying “Are we going to stop them at the border and ask: ‘are you one of the good kids or the bad kids?’”
School board member Mark Lafata grabbed a wireless mic and strolled to center stage. He pointed and declared: “We’ll have to move out to Columbia! Or maybe Kansas City!
“We don’t want this here in Francis Howell!”
Class president Eric Lee said his fellow students are excited about welcoming the transfers from Normandy.
“We understand that we are kids and we’re not the ones paying taxes, but we are the ones who’re going to be seeing them everyday,” he said. “We think it’d be a great opportunity.”
For three hours, twice the allotted amount of time, parents pointed questioned at administrators. Only the one about test scores was answerable. The rest, including impacts on teacher-student ratios and exactly how many transfers there will be, won’t be known until almost the first day of school, superintendent Sloan said.
She shared that the district can confirm 150 transfer requests to date, and estimates that the eventual number may be around 600.
Concerns expressed also included whether Normandy students would be left behind by Francis Howell’s curriculum as well as whether Francis Howell students, especially those with special needs, would receive less of a teacher’s divided attention.
Sloan promised to forge ahead with plans to increase the rigor of district lesson plans.
Meantime, State Representative Mark Parkinson, second-to-last in the line of public speakers, criticized administrators for not allowing lawmakers to take official part of the assembly.
“It’s apparent why they didn’t want us up here, answering your questions and concerns,” he said. “It’s so that they can come down here, wag their finger and blame somebody.”
Board member Lafata responded: “You want to sit here and wag your finger at me? Go to Jeff City and change the law. That’s where the problem’s at.”
Parkinson said that the law allowing transfers dates back to 1993 — when he said he was two years out of high school — and he encouraged anyone concerned to call Governor Nixon and request a special session.
In the likely event that buses are delivering Normandy students on the first day of school in four weeks, Jamillah Robertson doesn’t want her daughter to feel outcast.
“I just sent my daughter to summer camp for a whole week and she was the only black girl there. They did not treat her like this,” she said. “Everybody is not the same. Please do not judge everyone.”
Robertson promised parents of her daughters, “You will love them.”
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