Students explore school closures

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The conventional wisdom is that all politics are local, but many civics classes don't get that message.

Geneva Jorgenson, a sixth- grade teacher at Route 66 Elementary School, is working on changing that. While her civics block is filled with the essentials — such as teaching her students about the three branches of the federal government — Jorgenson has spent the past several weeks on a project that has more local implications. The students have been studying the Moriarty-Edgewood School District's proposal to reorganize, which would lead to the closure of two elementary schools and moving sixth-grade students out of the remaining elementary schools and into middle school.

"This isn't just about the emotions involved, but hopefully teaching the students to think critically and look at all sides of a debate," Jorgenson said.

Jorgenson said she came up with the project as part of her own education to get certification as a master teacher through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

On Monday, students were divided into four groups and expected to come up with arguments for and against reorganization based on what one of four groups might think. Those groups included: parents from a closing school, teachers from any school, city representatives from Edgewood and fifth-grade students.

The students researched the issue using local media stories.

Jorgenson said that while the students' parents might have strong feelings about the reorganization plan, the kids themselves have shown a willingness to look at all the factors. There is an expectation students should be able to argue both sides of the issue.

"I like how fair children are," Jorgenson said. "They showed they clearly understood the issues and could see both sides."

While students in the district were looking at the issue of reorganization, the district itself is moving forward in a two-pronged effort to implement the reorganization plan. Superintendent Tom Sullivan said Monday that the district has been meeting with state Public Education Department officials in regards to a denial of the district's January application for reorganization and a new application the district submitted last month.

However, the district is moving forward with a lawsuit it filed on March 18. Sullivan said the MESD Board of Education had voted to give the superintendent and board President Todd McCarty the authority to move forward with a lawsuit if necessary at a March 13 special meeting. McCarty said on March 14 that the district wasn't planning a lawsuit, but it was filed before the next regular meeting on March 18.

Sullivan said that no one with the district was trying to mislead the public, but that circumstances had changed between March 14 and March 18. He said he could not elaborate on what had changed.

Sullivan said the district will continue to work with PED on the reorganization plan as well as move forward with the court case.

"It's not unfair to say we're not hedging our bets," Sullivan said.