This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Starting at the end of August, the School District plans to relocate kindergartners and 1st graders at Mayfair Elementary School to Austin Meehan Middle School to address overcrowding, a decision that has parents fuming.
After being informed of the change on May 17, parents started a petition to rally community members against the plan.
Lee Whack, spokesman for the School District of Philadelphia, said the move is only a short-term solution for the overcrowding at Mayfair. Built to accommodate 955 students, the school currently has 1,657 enrolled.
But while Mayfair is bursting at the seams, Meehan, which serves 7th and 8th graders, is more than half-empty, with slightly fewer than 600 students in a building that can hold more than 1500. The two buildings are just under a mile apart.
Whack said the District is planning to build a new school on the Lincoln High School campus that will be completed by the 2020-21 school year, but construction has not yet started. The District recently added a cafeteria to the Mayfair school, which was built in 1949.
On May 23, members of the incoming Board of Education held a listening session at Lawncrest Library in the Northeast, and the move decision was one of the topics addressed. Whack said the School District would continue to hear from the community about the move throughout the summer.
“I don’t know of specific changes at this time, but we continue to be in touch with the community about these plans,” Whack said. “We always take parent feedback into consideration and we also take these meetings as an opportunity to fully explain our plans. And I think we were able to answer a lot of questions, and there are parents that still have concerns, and that’s understandable. And we will continue to work with them through those concerns.”
Jackie Nelson, a Mayfair parent, attended the session. She said that at the meeting, attendees were not told with certainty that the move is going to happen.
“I’m still not sure. I hear that they’re going to do it, but they didn’t verbally say to us that it’s most definitely happening,” Nelson said.
She said she is worried about how the decision might negatively impact the students who would be placed at Meehan.
“We are all very concerned for their well-being, safety, and the environment that they’re going to learn in,” Nelson said, saying that she has heard about problems with conditions in the building.
She also had an issue with the lateness of the announcement.
“We were just notified of this the last month of school, just completely blindsided, dropped on us, and we need to be heard,” Nelson said. “We want to be heard, and that’s not really their main concern.”
Queenie Mei, a parent of two students at Mayfair, said moving her kids to Meehan would cause them unnecessary issues.
“My daughter has asthma, and I saw that they have mold at Meehan. The mold would make my daughter sick. Her asthma would become worse,” Mei said.
She said that there were parents at the listening session from different schools, and they supported the Mayfair parents.
“In the group, as we were talking about these issues, parents who aren’t from Mayfair were starting to ask questions about why the school made such a decision to move to Meehan, which is known to be a school that is in disarray,” Mei said. “A lot of parents came up to us to wish us luck and hoped that we would win.”
Mayfair is the largest elementary school in the Commonwealth, and one of the most diverse, enrolling students whose families come from more than 60 countries. All of its students, from kindergarten through 8th grade, follow the rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum. School officials have said that students in the new location would also follow that curriculum.
Sam Haut, a junior journalism major at Ithaca College, is a Notebook summer intern.