Fight closure

These recommendations are written for anyone concerned with the forced closing of their school, including community members, school administrators, families, students, and residents without school-age children. Some might be more useful for school leaders, others for community members.

Below, I’ve identified strategies that have worked to stop school closures, especially those forced by state policy. Click on each to find out more information and details.

For these tactics to work, you will need a good organizing strategy. By organizing, I mean deliberately building relationships, establishing leaders, holding one another accountable for the work you agree to take on, and mobilizing people to create change for a better, more just future. This will take time, energy, and courage—but without organizing, you’re unlikely to build the power and momentum needed for real change.

A final note: start early (early = 5-10 years before closure would likely occur). It is much easier to prevent a closure than to stop one that’s already happening.

The tactics

Understand the issue and develop a plan. Spend time understanding what’s making closure a threat in your community and developing an action plan to counter it.

Educate, expand, and organize your base. Create a community around shared values (educational justice) and goals (keeping your school open). Then focus on multiplying this base and organizing it to take action.

Build a coalition. Alliances for shared action are necessary in the fight for change.

Communicate well. Know your message, and keep it short, clear, and action-oriented.

Use research effectively. As one researcher told me, “If anything’s going to happen, it’s not going to be because some pinhead with a PhD comes in with some nice tables and graphs and persuades the state that this is harmful.” He’s right—it’s good organizing that works. But research can be a useful tool in an organized fight against closure.

Cut costs and increase revenue. The number one cause of closure is “fiscal strangulation”—that is, starving a district of the funds it needs to effectively operate. Maintaining sufficient funds is, therefore, essential to staying open.

Boost enrollment. Boosting enrollment can increase revenue. It can also help districts avoid consolidation (in states with enrollment minimums) or meet facilities requirements (in states that mandate new facilities’ sizes).

Focus on academic quality. Not only is a strong academic program essential for providing students with a good education, it’s harder to shut down an academically thriving school. People will also move to an area for a high-quality school and pay higher taxes to support one.

Prioritize family and community engagement in the school. Not only does strong community engagement boost academic quality, it also makes the school a prized local institution—one that people don’t want to see closed.

Consolidate carefully. School district consolidation does not have to mean closure. However, it often does, as the larger, more powerful, receiving district has the leverage to close the smaller, less powerful school(s) in the consolidated district. Thus, you need to put specific protections in place that guarantee all schools stay open.

Make school closure an election issue. Campaign for and elect leaders that understand the threat of school closure and have a proactive plan to stop closure.

Change policy. Sometimes the only possible course of action is trying to change the policy that is forcing a school to close. If that’s the case, you’ll need to organize for a statewide campaign to change state policy.

Persuade the state board of education. In some states, a state board of education might have to approve a contentious decision to close a school. Then it’s the state board of education members that you’ll need to persuade.

File a lawsuit. Closure is filled with inequalities and injustices, and it’s typically an un-democratic process. Sometimes a lawsuit might be the only option, especially if a community’s educational or civil rights are being violated. However, litigation is often not successful, it can be costly, and it may invite retaliation. Use this as a last resort.