Hayward Unified votes to close fewer schools than anticipated

The Hayward Unified School District unanimously voted late Wednesday to close two elementary schools before the start of the next academic year: It's a compromise the board made with community members, who were passionate about keeping their schools open.

They decided to close just two schools – Strobridge and Bowman – next year, instead of eight, which had been initially proposed.

The board had initially planned to stop enrollment at two other schools - Ochoa Middle School and Glassbrook Elementary in 2023, but decided not to take any action on the recommendations for those two schools.

Parents, students and teachers held a rally before the online school meeting letting people know their schools were in danger of closing.

"All of the students, all of the teachers and all of the community just feel really lost," Bowman Elementary School teacher Emily Worth said before the meeting.

During the meeting school board president April Oquenda said that the decision weighed "heavy on our hearts" and was very difficult to make.

Trustee Peter Bufete noted that the compromise vote bought the district a "little more time" to see what other alternatives are out there.

The closures come as enrollment is down about 2,000 students, districtwide, over the past two years.

And demographics point to declining enrollment for years to come, because many families have left the area due to the high cost of living and housing.

The school district has an estimated $14 million deficit.

Thursday morning, a hand-made, cardboard sign that read "Stallion Strong" was placed in front of the Strobridge school campus, but the sense of sadness and frustration among the community was clear.

"I'm really mad and disappointed," said parent Ora Rochell. "I feel like students are going to fall further behind. They went from being on zoom, to a shorter school day, and now, to have to start all over again? It's not consistent."

Rochell was also concerned about the logistical challenges of having to drive her son to a school farther away now that their neighborhood school is closing.

"It's bad enough they have a shortened bell schedule because of COVID. If I have to go to an outer district school or outer district campus, I might as well not even work. It's not going to be feasible for a lot of parents."

"Strobridge's been a great school," said Jennifer Dealo, a parent of a current and two former Strobridge elementary students. "All my kids have gone to this school. They go above and beyond here, putting families in touch with resources, helping them. It's going to have a huge impact. It's going to hurt a lot of families."

A school district spokesperson said that educators and staff members' jobs will be safe, despite the closures.

In an email, Hayward Unified School District Public Information Officer Dionicia Ramos said, "The district does not expect layoffs because we will need staff to support the students moving to new sites and we are still dealing with staffing shortages across the district. HUSD will now work with our labor partners to determine next steps in supporting staff that will transition."