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Parents ask courts to block school closures

Parent Anitra Baker co-filed a lawsuit seeking to block all school closures
ordered in January by the San Francisco School Board.
Photo(s) by Luke Thomas

By Pat Murphy

July 22, 2006

Parents of John Swett Elementary School students yesterday filed a lawsuit seeking to block all school closures ordered in January by the San Francisco School Board.

The suit alleges the School Board failed to conduct environmental impact studies required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

For his part, School District legal counsel David Campos responded school closures are exempt from CEQA except in cases of significant impact.

A group calling itself San Francisco Parents for a Safe School Environment joined parents Anitra Baker and Gail Baugh in the suit, claiming negative impacts of school closures include:

-- Dangerous traffic conditions. Cross high volume intersections such as Oak and Fell Streets.

-- Predatory criminal activity en route to schools, particularly for John Swett students that will have to endure a longer commute to John Muir School.

-- Crossing invisible 'turf' boundaries that endanger children and parents; and traffic congestion.

An attorney representing the group said that as a California Assemblyman he wrote the last revision to CEQA, and the intent of CEQA was to require study of impacts listed by the lawsuit.

"We've asked the courts to declare null and void the vote that the Board of Education took to shut down a number of schools including John Swett on the grounds that the board did not include in its decision making process a study of the environment that is going to be affected by the closure and merger of these schools," stated attorney Terry Groggin.

Terry Groggin

Groggin served represented San Bernardino California Assembly District 65 in the 1980s. As an assemblyman, Groggin chaired the Assembly Resource Committee which oversaw CEQA, Groggin told the Sentinel.

"Specifically the board did not take into account the traffic conditions, did not take into account the safety conditions that the children would be exposed to as a result of the mergers of these schools."

One parent fears that school mergers will force students to cross paths will gang violence.

"It is going to be kind of hard for my babies to walk from where we live to John Muir because they have to go through four more communities to get to John Muir which is really not safe," reported Anitra Baker.

Baker is a parent of seven children who went to John Sweet Elementary, she said, with three more children yet to complete elementary school.

"Just recently we had four shootings where my children have to walk," Baker continued.

"It's really scary. It happens in the daytime and they're young and it's really not fair for them to have to go through all that."

Parent Gail Baugh echoed the fear.

"I'm a parent whose son went through the public schools. He's graduated. Had a fine education but when I saw what was happening in the Western Addition and Hayes Valley it made me cry," stated Gail Baugh.

Gail Baugh

"As our people tried to make the case that this is a safety issue, this board refused to hear us."




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