|Carbon School District board member Jim Leonard address an overflow crowd in the district board room just before the vote to close East Carbon High was cast. Leonard and Barry Deeter, seated next to him, both voted to keep the school open.|
At the end of next month East Carbon High School will cease to exist as a school in Carbon School District.
That decision was made by the Carbon Board of Education last Thursday evening in a short but impact-filled meeting in which the board accepted a study committee's recommendation to close the school at the end of this school year in a 3-2 vote.
The vote ends a month long period of uncertainty for the residents of East Carbon, Sunnyside and Columbia, and even a few other students in the county that would attend the school next year. During that time both Helper Junior High and East Carbon High were evaluated for closure based on a number of factors including declining enrollment, test scores, course offerings and financial considerations.
On April 13 the board voted unanimously to keep Helper Junior High open after the committee recommended that action, but put the East Carbon High recommendation on hold until the board could take a few more days to look at the situation and to also hold a meeting with citizens of the east county area on last Wednesday night.
That meeting, in the East Carbon High School gym, drew a crowd to the building that few had seen in many years. It was the only time many newcomers to the area had seen the parking lot that full.
|East Carbon student Bryant Bridges addresses his concerns by the school board during the meeting at the ECH gym on Wednesday night.|
"It used to often look that way when East Carbon fielded a football team," said Jim Robertson before the meeting began. But that was in the days when the high school had over 400 students and in the 1980s football was dropped at the school because there were too few students to field a football team. At nearly the same time football in 1A schools was dropped around the state, but in recent years has experienced a come back.
The meeting began with board president Grady McEvoy telling the audience, which reportedly numbered between 400 and 500 people at its peak, that the board was there to listen just as they had promised they would if it came down to voting on closing the school.
The beginning presentations came from those representing organizations in the community, some of which lasted 10 minutes. A few of those had handouts for the board.
Some of the statements concerned how the situation would impact the students.
"We have a passion for protecting our youth in this community," said Liz Fergusen, who represented the East Carbon Community Coalition. "In this small school each person can make an impact on our community. It's a place where older students can mentor younger students. I wonder about the statement that if you take kids out of their environment they will achieve. With this change would we be putting these students more at risk?"
Students talked about their attachment to the school and how they would feel about it being closed.
"The teachers here are our friends," said Bryant Bridges. "This school is this town's backbone."
|Three students hug each other while waiting to address the school board during the East Carbon meeting in which many residents, town officials and students pleaded with members not to close the school.|
Others talked about the transition the students would face and how in some quarters people from East Carbon and Sunnyside are considered less important than those from the central part of the county.
"From the time I started school here in this area we were considered second class citizens by many in other places in the county," said Sandra Garcia. "We didn't start that perception. But how are you going to mesh kids at Carbon High who feel that way about those from East Carbon with kids from here?"
There were also many comments from those that feared the closing of the school would not only damage their property values but would be the death knell for the community, what it would do the to the social fabric of the community and finally the dangers of transporting or having students transport themselves 25 miles to Price on Highway 6.
One woman also stiffly challenged the board to do more than listen. She asked them to tell the audience what they wanted the community to do, what they wanted to hear from those affected so that the school would not be closed.
Board members responded with various statements concerning the situation, largely relating to the well being and education of the students.
The meeting lasted two hours with the last few minutes being taken up largely by students who wanted to address the board about their love for the school. This included some pleads to not close it.
|Hundreds of people gathered in the East Carbon gymnasium to make comments to the Carbon Board of Education on Wednesday night.|
At the end McEvoy told those that remained that they would consider all they had heard and make a decision the next night at the board office.
At the beginning of that meeting, which was held on Thursday night, the short agenda was presented to the crowd that filled the room and overflowed into the hall outside the board room. The agenda only contained one action item; whether or not to close East Carbon High. But before the vote McEvoy explained that he would not vote on the issue unless there was a tie between the other four board members. Then board member Jim Leonard made a plea to the people of East Carbon.
"I am asking the parents of the kids who go to East Carbon, and those that may go to East Carbon, to be supportive of their children no matter how this vote turns out this evening," he said. "You just need to support your kids regardless of how things go."
McEvoy then asked for a motion and board member Boyd Bell made one to accept the committees recommendation to close the school. Debbie Blackburn then seconded the motion. McEvoy called for a vote. Blackburn and Bell voted for the motion, Barry Deeter and Leonard voted against it. McEvoy then broke the tie by voting for it.
McEvoy announced the decision and then said that the district would "do everything possible to mitigate the stress."
As the vote ended signs and groans could be heard throughout the room, then came the tears. People were hugging each other with wet eyes everywhere and the crowd began to filter out. There was no commotion or exclamations of dissatisfaction in the board room before the meeting was adjourned. As soon as it was through someone from the back called out "East Carbon parents send your kids to Green River."
Many people also had a lot to say after the vote was completed as they stood in groups outside the building and in the halls.
|Superintendent David Armstrong and board member Boyd Bell listen as people come up the microphone to comment one after another.|
"For a number of years East Carbon City paid money to keep that school open, and so did some others," said Darlene Kuhns and East Carbon City Council woman. "The board can tell us anything they want, but when you put another hundred kids in with the 700 students at Carbon what do you have? You have 800 students and a bigger school. Everything that has been happening lately has been a negative for our town. I don't know of anything else that could close the doors to our town any tighter."
Kuhns also expressed concern about another part of the committees recommendation; that of moving Petersen Elementary to the East Carbon High building. She said she couldn't understand why the district would want to spend all the money to move the school and do the remodeling it will take to make the building suitable for the younger grades.
"I just don't understand their reasoning," she said. "But we aren't going to give up. We are going to keep fighting."
Anette Lake was in tears as she towed her son, Tyson, a potential student for the closed high school through the hall on her way out.
Outside the board office four groups of people had gathered and discussed the situation, few of them with positive remarks about the decision. Words like awful, unfair and bad decision emanated from the groups as debate on the issue continued. Many were also discussing the travel problems that would be presented to students, particularly those who wanted to stay after school for extra curricular activities.
In some quarters the debate surely ranged into the evening and even into this week. Thursday night one of the Salt Lake television stations showed people in front of East Carbon High protesting the closure with some saying that students would be boycotting the school the rest of the year.
However, upon checking the school on Friday morning, a Sun Advocate reporter found school in session after a short assembly to tell students about the decision and to emphasize to them that they needed to continue their school work for the rest of the year. School officials said absenteeism, despite statements from some in the community, was not abnormally high.