While Plumas County residents and school district administrators have joined in battle, one parent brings stark examples from the hills of West Virginia, where school closures were initiated on a wide scale.
A member of the Indian Valley School Closure and Consolidation Committee, her task was to research similar situations and their outcomes.
The summary she shares is a grim one, with echoes of similarity that seem to stretch across the continent and the mists of time.
The harshest one was when several students from a small town were seriously injured in mid-winter 2002, when the bus they rode over a 4,000-foot mountain to school was forced off the road by a tractor-trailer truck.
Indian Valley parents are especially worried about this scenario; their murmurs have been heard during more than one committee meeting.
And one doesn’t have to go all the way to West Virginia for examples of what happens after school closures in small communities.
Just go down the canyon, remember Indian Jim?
Jeffery and Dorothy Wilson of Tobin were so moved when they read about threats of even more school closures, they came to Greenville and stood on the highway with signs: “Keep GHS Open,” “We Need our School,” “Keep our Community Healthy.”
Charleston Gazette reporters Eric Eyre and Scott Finn won both the 2002 Education Writers Award for their “Closing Costs” series in a newspaper with less than 100,000 in circulation, and the Fred M. Hechinger Grand Prize for Education Reporting.
Findings in their investigation were numerous, including a multitude of broken promises made worse by a top-heavy administration that grew despite fewer schools and declining enrollment.
For West Virginians, school closures began in 1990, more than 300 of them — one in every five schools.
Proposed for closure in Plumas County are at least three in 10, just for a start.
Members of each community have been asked to study the situation in committee and bring their recommendations to the governing board.
Misinformation abounds, and it seems as if district administrators are too busy to provide answers, at least that is what Chester committee members Traci Holt and Gwen Meinhardt discovered.
Indian Valley members were busy the past two weeks, refining their list of questions to present at the board meeting tonight.
Residents are so worked up about improper interference from administrators that several were calling for an “occupy the meeting” movement, so they could be heard and ask questions.
They figure they have the right to speak, but they really don’t, or won’t.
Even Indian Valley committee chairwoman Centella Tucker was under the impression that members of the public would be allowed their right to speak once at the beginning of the meeting, about issues not addressed on the agenda, and then during each agenda item, after board discussion.
Her impression was that they still operated under Robert’s Rules of Order, though this is not the case anymore, at least officially.
Ever since the 1990s there has been a statewide move to force more boards into compliance with the Ralph M. Brown Act, and I’ve noticed local boards move away from Robert’s Rules, and Plumas Unified is no exception.
Here is their modern take on public participation, as written on their website:
If the district provides agendas to the public at the meeting, there will be a brief description, contrary to what is found on their website, which is the following:
“Citizens wishing to speak before the School Board during a board meeting must sign up in advance.
“To sign up to speak, participants can either apply to speak to a scheduled agenda item, or to speak during the monthly public hearing on any specific topic.
“Requests to speak must be submitted by written request to the Plumas Superintendent of Schools, 50 Church Street, Quincy, California before the start of the regularly scheduled Tuesday meeting.”
The public’s constitutional rights are under attack, and it’s no wonder people are ready to go occupy themselves with correcting the situation.