What seemed like an agreement by the Cape Henlopen school board to fix racial and socio-economic imbalances at H.O. Brittingham Elementary suddenly changed May 9 after parents and teachers came out against the plan.
"I've heard something opposite tonight than what I've been hearing for the past months," said Superintendent Robert Fulton.
Fulton presented a proposal at the April board meeting to reconfigure the Milton elementary schools by placing kindergarten to second-grade students in H.O. Brittingham Elementary School and third- to fifth-grade students in Milton Elementary School after board members had expressed interest in resolving inequities at the two schools that lie less than a mile apart.
Board members appeared open to the idea of a grade split for the Milton schools until a contingent of parents and teachers from Milton Elementary came out against the plan.
"I heard from my constituents, and I've heard them loud and clear," said board member Sandi Minard.
Minard said she received emails and other forms of protest from residents who opposed the grade split. Board member Jen Burton said she has received similar protests "mostly from parents and teachers from the Milton side."
For these reasons, Minard said she does not support the short-term grade split in Milton.
"They are saying to deal with the overcrowding but don't mix the kids and put them through the stress and anxiety to fix a perceived problem."
But it's more than a perceived problem, board President Andy Lewis pointed out when he read racial and socio-economic statistics that clearly show H.O.B has more low-income students and a greater minority population than any other elementary school in the district; their school profile at the Department of Education website shows a student population of 40 percent white and more than 70 percent low income. The remaining district elementary schools show the reverse – 70 percent white and 40 percent low income.
Board Vice President Spencer Brittingham said keeping the schools as they are is wrong for more than racial reasons.
"When you have a book fair and one school can raise thousands of dollars and another can only raise a couple of hundred, it's not just racial, it's an economic balance, too," he said.
Three parents, a Milton Elementary teacher and a Milton Elementary School nurse spoke against splitting up the Milton schools.
"Don't set up two models in the district," said parent Mark Baker. "The K-5 model works, so keep it consistent in the district."
Milton Elementary teacher Elizabeth Schlater said splitting the schools would be hard on families with children at more than one school. Kathy Capozzoli said she heard parents would pull their children and send them to Eagles Nest if the district goes through with the grade split.
After the meeting, board member Noble Prettyman said he still supports Fulton's proposal to reconfigure the Milton schools.
"This has been going on for 10 years. Every time it's brought up, someone shoots it down," he said.
Brittingham said he was disappointed, too. He said he wants to call for a board vote on the K-2 and 3-5 configuration.
"I think the board overall knows something needs to be done," he said.
The district will hold two community meetings to present two options for Cape school improvements. The first option will be the original Facilities Task Force recommendation for new elementary schools housing 700 students in K-5 at Shields, Rehoboth, H.O. Brittingham and a fourth school built in a yet-to-be-determined area within the Route 9 and 24 corridor. Renovations would be made to Milton Elementary School.
Under Fulton's latest proposal, a new K-2 school would be built at H.O. Brittingham and Milton Elementary would be renovated to house grades 3-5.
Both plans include classroom expansions at the middle schools to ease overcrowding.
Community meetings to address the two proposals will be held at 6 p.m. Monday, May 20, at Beacon Middle School and 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 21, at Mariner Middle School.