Boise’s school closure plan runs into parent outrage

A Boise administrators’ meeting with Owyhee Elementary School parents to discuss the school’s closure ran into a buzzsaw of frustration and hostility Tuesday evening.

In the elementary’s small gymnasium, more than 75 frustrated parents and local homeowners challenged the district’s plan to close Owyhee and convert it to an early childhood learning center in 2025.

Owyhee Elementary located on the Boise Bench could close and reopen as a preschool in 2025. The district held an engagement meeting Tuesday, and received an earful of opposition. (Photo: Darren Svan/EdNews)

The feud now moves in front of the Boise school board, which meets at 6 p.m Monday. Many parents said they intend to voice their concerns in front of trustees.

Owyhee’s “parent engagement” meeting — the second of two — was punctuated with outbursts and interruptions from indignant parents, who would not allow Becca Anderson, Boise’s Borah area director, to finish her presentation and then host small-group discussions with district leaders.

A group of Boise supervisors and deputy superintendents sat behind Anderson, occasionally jumping into the fracas to clarify and tamp down the verbal exchanges.

“What about our needs?” an animated parent pleaded.

“I’m here to listen,” Anderson adamantly told the crowd.

Opposition to converting to a pre-kindergarten center was universal but much of their ire was directed at the district’s “lack of transparency” and “deceptive verbiage.”

Anderson repeatedly said a decision to close Owyhee — a K-6 school with 150 students — has not been made, because only school trustees have that authority.

But several parents produced emails and press releases refuting her statement.

A letter from principal Adria David dated April 8 reads, “After careful consideration and planning, beginning with the 2025-2026 school year, Owyhee Elementary will be converted from a traditional K-6 school to an early childhood learning center.”

Parents accused the district of not engaging with them early enough in the planning process. They asked if the proposal to close Owyhee could stop before reaching the school board. They never received a definitive answer. (Photo: Darren Svan/EdNews)

A news release from Dan Hollar, the district’s public affairs administrator, includes the same information: the school “will be” converted.

“You are using the verbiage ‘propose’ tonight, but your communication says ‘it will be converted,’” said Libby Johns, a parent of two children attending Owyhee.

To stop the closure, Johns and other parents have embarked on a social media, petition and door-knocking campaign.

Another parent added, “This is not what we heard last week. This has changed because we rallied and got the media here.”

In addition to Idaho Education News, three television news crews attended the meeting.

Parents are angry because their feedback and input was not gathered at the start, before the proposed closure was set in motion; and that Tuesday’s meeting was to gather feedback about the transition and boundary changes, not about the merits of closing Owyhee.

“This is an opportunity to clarify,” Anderson told parents.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In addition to Owyhee, three nearby schools could have enrollment boundaries redrawn, if the closure is approved — Hillcrest, Whitney and Hawthorne.

On Monday, the school board is scheduled to discuss the boundary change process, but not decide on the proposed closure. That decision, according to Anderson, could take place in December of 2024 or January of 2025.

The proposal to close Owyhee came from the district’s “core cabinet,” a group of administrators, directors and the superintendency, which received approval from the school board to explore opening the new center for 350 kids ages 3-5.

“The need is here in these neighborhoods,” Anderson said. 

The district offers early childhood education at more than 11 sites, many without facilities built specifically for preschool-age children. Owyhee’s conversion is part of the plan to fully support the specific needs of early learners, Hollar wrote in a press release.

“We take a look at the demographics and where students live. We have waiting lists for our preschools, either our general education or our special education preschools, and a lot of students actually live in the Bench and southwest Boise. And so it seems to be a space where we can open up a second center,” she said.

Anderson’s careful explanations and polite responses, however, did not appease the crowd’s irritability.

“We’ve lost faith and trust in the school district and administration,” a parent quipped.

Darren Svan

Darren Svan

Reporter Darren Svan has a background in both journalism and education. Prior to working for military schools at overseas installations, he was news editor at several publications in Wyoming and Colorado. You can send news tips to [email protected].

Get EdNews in your inbox

Weekly round up every Friday