Even after students, parents, and community members expressed their dismay during meetings and visits with city officials, the central office of D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) doubled down on its decision to close Washington Metropolitan Opportunity Academy at the end of this academic year.
Not even assurances by Chancellor Dr. Lewis Ferebee that students could easily transfer elsewhere have quelled the backlash among those who, after finding stability at Washington Metropolitan, say they’re struggling to figure out the maze of options.
“Students are going to have to get split up, and [there are] too many hood beefs. A lot of people said they’re going to drop out. One girl said she’s going to get her GED,” said Lyric Johnson, an 11th grader at Washington Metropolitan who’s gearing up for an early graduation.
Lyric entered Washington Metropolitan in 2017 after experiencing a bevy of challenges at Raymond Education Campus in Northwest. At her new school, she improved her discipline and gained greater self-awareness – a process which started in Washington Metropolitan’s eighth grade academy where Lyric mastered foundational concepts and acquired high school credits.
While she remains on track to receive a high school diploma before the closure, she acknowledges that recent events have confirmed her feelings about the mistreatment of her peers and other Black youth in a rapidly-changing city.
“DCPS isn’t going to put any money in our school because of attendance,” said Lyric, 16. “It’s always a money thing. I talked to the chancellor, deputy mayor for education and [staff working with] council members. They heard us but it went in one ear and out the other. All we wanted was some resources.”
In his November 27 announcement about Washington Metropolitan’s fate, Ferebee cited low enrollment, inconsistent attendance, staff vacancies and dismal academic achievement as key reasons for his decision – the first public school closure since 2013.
Ferebee’s announcement outraged education advocates, while spurring some of the more than 150 young people who attend the Shaw-area school into action. In recent weeks, Washington Metropolitan students engaged D.C. Council member Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1) during a community meeting and delivered a petition of more than 1,500 signatures to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) and other officials.
Since the start of their campaign, Nadeau, D.C. Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8), and the D.C. State Board of Education have thrown their support behind Washington Metropolitan, via separate letters to Ferebee.
Still, after conferring with Bowser, Ferebee has remained steadfast in his decision. He told The Informer that listening sessions and staff meetings with 200 students, educators and families solidified his course of action.
“DC Public Schools has a responsibility to create learning environments where every student can succeed at their neighborhood school and we do not take the decision to close Washington Metropolitan High School lightly,” Ferebee said.
“We believe that the unique educational offerings and support services provided at our neighborhood high schools and opportunity academies are well-suited to meet the needs of Washington Metropolitan students. We are committed to partnering with the Washington Metropolitan community to thoughtfully transition students to schools where they will be loved, challenged and prepared to positively influence society.”
In an email to community members last week, WTU President Elizabeth Davis countered Ferebee’s perspective, saying the District precipitated Washington Metropolitan’s downfall by not investing in the school as it had done for others across the city.
Over the past few years, the District’s other opportunity academies – Luke C. Moore High School in Northwest, Roosevelt STAY in Northwest and Ballou STAY in Southeast – received renovations and curriculum revamps. All the while, Washington Metropolitan students and community advocates remained critical of the per-pupil funding structure they said prevented the school with a smaller student body than other institutions from fulfilling its potential.
Washington Metropolitan, in existence since 2008, counts as the only opportunity academy in the District also serving middle school students, including nearly four dozen eighth graders, who face academic and behavioral challenges in traditional school settings.
Earlier this year, the school enrolled 19 students into its inaugural seventh grade class.
For one Washington Metropolitan student speaking on the condition of anonymity, the school’s closure leaves many questions unanswered including if she can transition into another school environment similar to that which she entered two years ago.
“I’ve been to about 13 schools and I never had a school help me like Washington Metropolitan,” said the student who entered the program as an eighth grader. In the year leading up to her enrollment, she spent much of her time at home still reeling from an expulsion from Paul Public Charter School in Northwest.
As she counts down the months leading up to Washington Metropolitan’s closure, the youth, who recently gave birth to a baby, said she remains ambivalent about attending another school, especially since Washington Metropolitan helped her get half of the credits she would need to graduate.
“If you wanted someone to talk to, [Washington Met staff] would be right there. They make time for everyone,” she said. “Students try to help each other out there. During my pregnancy, my teachers made sure I had what I needed. I’d come up there certain days and teachers even gave me their phone numbers so I could call them at home.”