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Proposed school closures prompt discussion about segregation

Orange County School District’s proposal for two new K-8 schools in Baldwin Park and Parramore, to replace smaller elementary schools, inspires acrimony

Photo: , License: N/A

Photo: Photo by Stephanie Garcia, License: N/A

Photo by Stephanie Garcia


Editor's note: The original version of this story contained inaccurate information about the location of the new K-8 school planned for Audubon Park. Currently, Audubon Park Elementary is located in Baldwin Park. The old Audubon Park Elementary School, located on Falcon Drive just outside of Baldwin Park, will be demolished to make room for the proposed new Audubon Park K-8. The story has been edited to correct the error.

 

On May 27, a surprise meeting of the Orlando City Council – or, more specifically, its Community Redevelopment Agency – was called to order so departing District 5 Commissioner Daisy Lynum could have her last stand. On May 12, Lynum officially said goodbye to the City Council after serving for 16 years, but she wasn’t about to leave office for real until she finished something she claims to have started: the beginnings of the development of a new kindergarten-through-8th-grade (K-8) community school in the Parramore district.

The CRA would sign over a 3.8-acre parcel between Federal Street and Otey Place – once meant to be a residential development spearheaded by Lynum and her failed Pathways to Parramore project, which spent $1.3 million in relocation fees for residents a decade ago – to the city for just $10. The land could only be used for school development, per the CRA. The stage was set for Lynum’s grand dismount.

“I have to vote no, because of the impact it could have on Fern Creek Elementary and Kaley Elementary,” District 4 Commissioner Patty Sheehan chimed in when it was time for the commissioners to have their say. Fern Creek, which is in Sheehan’s district, would lose 157 of its 359 students (and almost all of its African-American population) without the busing from Parramore. About 500 elementary-age kids are bused out of Parramore to eight schools in Orange County daily right now. The proposed new school, along with a new one planned for Baldwin Park, would replace Fern Creek, which would close for good, as school board officials have already confirmed.

“The most important thing in a community is a school and churches,” Lynum snapped back at her. “I have never interfered with any other council district. To have this discussion about keeping this school open, and to have little black children bused to some community that they can’t walk to, is asinine.”

Just weeks before, Lynum and Sheehan had come to blows on the same issue, with Lynum saying it was none of the city’s business what happens in the school district – take it to the school board, she suggested – although clearly the city has some business in the matter.

Orange County Public Schools has been – some say surreptitiously – drafting plans for the two K-8 schools (along with three more in the future) for more than a year, and has made it all but completely clear that small community schools like Fern Creek Elementary in Colonialtown and Grand Avenue Primary Learning Center in Parramore will be folded into these larger, state-of-the-art schools. Orange County’s school desegregation order was lifted in 2010 – nearly 60 years after the historic Brown v. Board of Education ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, which declared that separate schools for black kids and white kids were not constitutional; school districts in the South were notoriously slow to integrate their schools, so the courts had to force the issue, which led to busing kids from various neighborhoods to schools around the city.

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