MOLINE — MOLINE — Saturday morning, about 25 people gathered to make the 1.1-mile trek from Ericsson Elementary School to Lincoln-Irving Elementary on ice- and snow-covered streets and sidewalks, a journey students now attending Ericsson may have to make if the district goes through with plans to close the school.
The school district plans to close Ericsson Elementary, 335 5th Ave., and Garfield Elementary, 1518 25th Ave., in an effort to improve student performance and save money. Garfield likely will be sold, but the Ericsson building is being considered for a new purpose, possibly a community center.
Students attending Ericsson and Garfield are expected to be funneled into Hamilton, 700 32nd Ave., which the district plans to expand, and Lincoln-Irving, 1015 16th Ave.
The parents and supporters who organized the walk Saturday said they were concerned about Ericsson students and parents who might have to make the trip each day, especially in winter.
Antonio Varela, Moline, who attended Ericsson years ago, said he and the other friends of Ericsson walked to raise awareness of the “obstacles and the dangers of walking 1.1 miles up to a school, whether it’s (in) rain, sleet or snow.”
He said the group also was concerned about “what it’s going to cost the city to create a safe path.”
His parents, Marina and Jesus, walked, too, and his father carried a sign that read, “Do you care about neighborhood schools? Please join us.”
Ms. Varela said all of her kids attended Ericsson, and the family lives in the neighborhood.
“This school is the heart of this neighborhood,” Antonio Varela said. “As a whole, we shouldn’t be closing down any neighborhood schools because it affects the whole neighborhood.”
He said sidewalks often aren’t cleared after it snows, and in some areas, there are no sidewalks.
Traffic in the morning and evening also adds to the danger, he said, as do frigid temperatures that can be the norm for Midwestern winters. “Imagine walking (that far) in below-zero weather,” he said.
The group’s main priority is “the safety of the kids,” Antonio Varela said.
Another walker, Connie Barrett, Moline, said Ericsson is “really the hub of the community” in the Floreciente neighborhood.
Ms. Barrett, who volunteers with the Palomares Social Justice Center in Moline, has worked with people in the Floreciente neighborhood for more than 10 years, she said.
She said she hoped the walk would help call attention to the issues surrounding the district’s plan to close the school. “This is an issue that Moline taxpayers should know about,” she said.
“Would you send your 6-year-old to walk up a snowy, ice-covered hill?” she said. “Transportation is a big issue.”
Handouts passed around among walkers listed three questions the group says have gone unanswered:
“1. What level of communication/collaboration has been initiated between the city of Moline, the Moline Police Department, and the Moline School District to address the public-safety issues related to moving students from neighborhood to other schools? …
“2. What guarantees do the individual school board members and the district administration provide to ensure that impacted students’ needs will be met at the new schools? …
“3. Please identify the cost savings associated with the closures, given that the Hamilton expansion is estimated at $17.2 million alone.”
Walker Rosalva Portillo, Moline, seemed optimistic about the future of the Ericsson students.
A Lincoln-Irving third-grade teacher and a parent, she said once a safe route to Lincoln-Irving is in place, with better sidewalks and walks that are plowed, she would be happy to have Ericsson students attending Lincoln-Irving.
“I know it is a sad time,” she said, adding that she attended Ericsson from kindergarten through second grade and has good memories from her time there, but “we’re looking into the future.”
Having Ericsson students who speak both Spanish and English come to Lincoln-Irving will enhance the school’s dual-language work and help make students more “globalized,” she said. “It’s huge for us.”
Walking with the group allowed her to hear concerns from those who will be affected by the closing of Ericsson. Lincoln-Irving “wants to work with Ericsson to make this transition easier,” she said, and she will be able to relay concerns back to the school and the district.
Saturday afternoon, Dr. David Moyer, Moline-Coal Valley School District superintendent, said district officials have had several preliminary discussions, but official plans cannot be made until the school board approves the boundaries that will determine whether students at schools that are closed attend Hamilton or Lincoln-Irving.
“If all goes well, we want these (boundaries) to be approved in April,” he said. “We know that there may be some things that need to be done,” he said — there have been conversations about school start times and bus routes — but nothing specific can be decided until the boundaries are set.