Parents split over possible Montessori school move
A five-hour board meeting on the fate of California Montessori Project’s Capitol Campus ended around 10:45 p.m. Monday night with a resolution: If an assessment says the Marshall School building in which the school resides is not compliant with state building codes, the school must move "expeditiously."
If the assessment, which has still not been made public, says the building does meet minimum state codes, the board will reconvene to decide if the school will move or not.
Nearly 100 people – parents, elementary school students and the California Montessori Project’s nine board members, superintendent and a legal advisor – filled a multipurpose room at the Marshall School in Midtown to see if the school would need to move. They voiced a range of concerns, asked questions and offered suggestions to the board and its director.
The public charter grade school opened at its current location, 2700 G St., on Aug. 17, after eight years of being located in the Pioneer Congregational Church, 2700 L St.
California Montessori Project leases the Marshall School building from the Sacramento City Unified School District, which also oversees its charter.
Last week, parents received a letter from CMP superintendent Gary Bowman saying new SCUSD superintendent Jonathan Raymond had recently performed a study, deeming the building unsafe.
"I don’t think (previous) staff did a thorough job, and that was something that I uncovered when I started," Raymond said to KCRA 3 last Tuesday. "(Students) were already in there, and we started to ask questions (like) ‘Why were they in before we did a thorough review?’"
California public schools are required to pass strict earthquake standards designated in the 1933 Field Act, but since the Marshall School was built in 1903, it does not meet them.
"We know we don’t have Field Act compliance, (because) we predated the Act by a number of years," said Bowman.
As a charter school, however, CMP only needs to meet minimum building requirements and not the Field Act. Their previous location, Pioneer Congregational Church, was not Field Act-compliant.
Bowman told those gathered Monday night that Raymond told him last week, "it’s not your mistake, it’s the city’s mistake." He also said Raymond told him that "we will do everything we can to make it whole," and that he wants to meet again next Tuesday.
A CMP facilities team proposed Jefferson Elementary School, in the College Glen neighborhood, as the best fit for the school to lease. Several parents praised Jefferson’s newer facilities, which include a larger grassy area for children to play, a more modern kitchen and a multipurpose room with a stage.
"In terms of the move itself, SCUSD is going to bring in packers, movers, they’re going to go full tilt to support this move," Bowman added.
However, others felt skeptical of SCUSD’s motives, shocked and betrayed at the sudden news.
"We felt that the building was safe enough," said Cécile Downs, the parent of a kindergartner and a second grader. "To my knowledge the school still has not received any written instructions to move."
Many parents voiced their concern that moving would disrupt students’ education and take parent volunteer hours. Others alleged that the district wanted to rent out the Marshall School, which Bowman denied.
A number of parents demanded transportation to the new school it moves. Some said they would not be able to transport their children because it takes too long.
"This building is over a century old, and I don’t believe there have been any problems related to earthquakes in this building," said Rich, a parent of a first grader who did not give his last name. "There is far more risk to our children driving on the freeway for two hours a day to get to a new location."
The Sacramento Press contacted SCUSD’s public relations office manager Maria Lopez and asked if the Marshall School building violates any codes. She said the code is not the issue.
"Our superintendent said that no students should be in any structures not compliant with the Field Act," Lopez said. "There’s a little bit of a grey area on whether independent charters (should) go into non-Field Act-compliant structures. Some think that they can, some think that they cannot."