The Washington Post ran a story the other day that was quite revealing about the politics of school closures.
Everyone knows it's politically difficult to close a school, but what was fascinating about this story was how much people danced around the reasons why.
Several districts in this area are shutting and consolidating schools due to that oh-so-trendy reason, budget problems. But Middleburg Elementary, in Loudoun County, Virginia, looks likely to stay in business, despite a total enrollment of just 85 students. Newer elementary schools in the county have 10 times that capacity.
The century-old school is considered a "jewel," according to the story, and a draw for some people looking for quality education for their kids. The story describes Middleburg as "quaint" but manages to avoid the usual cliche description of Middleburg as "horsey." Having said that, it doesn't take much reading between the lines to recognize that this is an affluent community wary of mixing its kids in with students from neighboring schools.
Nevertheless, no one will come right out and declare that closing the school would be detrimental to the children, or acknowledge that they're currently receiving a jackpot education that's not widely available.
"There is no difference, really, between the curriculum a third-grader gets in the eastern part of the county and what they get here," said Gary Wilkers, principal of Middleburg Elementary.
No difference, eh? Then why would it be harmful to shut this school? Second-grade teacher Nan Parrish takes a swing at that one. And misses.
"There's such a family feel here," she said. "I'm not saying it's more or less than at another school."
No difference there, either, I guess. Edgar B. Hatrick III, the district superintendent, says that of course he has nothing against small schools, but has to look at closure as an option given budgetary pressures. Hatrick says he "doesn't dislike" small schools -- but, even if he should resort to closing one, well -- you guessed it, there's no difference.
"When we talk about closing small schools," he said, "not a single child will have a diminished education as a result of that closure."
He added, presumably in jest, "I'm probably being fire-bombed at home right now."