Keeping siblings together is common concern for parents exploring school options after Levering closure

Nearly two dozen parents of students at William Levering Elementary showed up to the Roxborough school on Thursday night hoping for some clarity. 

On March 29, the School Reform Commision voted unanimously to close the school at the end of the school year, citing declining enrollment and a lack of students from the school’s catchment area as reasons for the decision. Now, parents are in the process of deciding which school to send their kids to next year.

Philadelphia School District officials organized the meeting this week to help parents through the selection process, but many parents used the opportunity to voice their concerns with the decision.

“They thought they might have gotten further clarification or their voices heard [and] I think some of them were hoping the vote would be changed,” said Lissa Johnson, assistant superintendent for the District’s 9th academic division. “But that’s happened, that train’s left the station and we’re moving on.”

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Johnson said the majority of Levering parents have already submitted their preferences for one of four schools in the area: Thomas Mifflin in East Falls, James Dobson in Manayunk, Cook-Wissahickon in Roxborough and Shawmont School in Roxborough. Parents also have the option to request a voluntary transfer. And although the majority of the paperwork is in, many parental concerns linger.  The most common concern expressed on Thursday was the fear of siblings being separated in the transfer process. 

Joseph Doroba, who has three children at Levering, said that in addition to wanting to send his kids off to a school nearby, keeping the family together is essential.

“I don’t care about the building, I care about the kids,” he said. “I’m going to get them in the same school.”

Danielle Bitto shared the same sentiment. She said she moved her daughter from Holy Child to Levering this year once she heard about the school’s merger with St. Bridget in East Falls.

“I moved [my children] here to make it easier to have less to worry about moving them to three different schools,” she said. “I have to potentially deal with it anyway.”

Johnson said officials are reassigning students to schools with three factors in mind: parental preference, proximity to a building and space in a particular school.

“That’s one of the reasons the boundaries haven’t been drawn,” she said. “We’re already imposing that their kids have to go elsewhere, so we didn’t want to force parents this year to go to school A or B.”

But some parents say that only makes their situations more difficult.

Doroba said he’s unhappy with the lack of borders because schools are already overcrowded and families that live closer than a voluntary transfer may not be able to fit in.

“Whether somebody from outside that school district goes there or not, the entitlement goes to the person in that school district,” he said. “Shouldn’t the children from outside the district be placed inside their own district school?”

Bitto also worries about boundaries. Because, she said, once they’re redrawn, her three-year-old might not be within the borders of where she might send her three children—since she intends to have them all in the same school.

Then, she added, if she is voluntarily opting to send her youngest child to a school not designated to her address, he won’t be eligible for busing.

Jay Morris, Philadelphia School District’s Special Projects Assistant designated to elaborate on transportation, said that if a child has to cross an intersection dubbed by PennDOT as dangerous, the district must provide busing. Additionally, if a child lives more than a mile and a half from a school, then the district must also provide busing. But parents who voluntarily opt for their children to go elsewhere must provide their own transportation.

“It’s a huge headache,” Bitto said. “I don’t think they thought anything through beyond they want to close this building.”

Parents will find out which school their children will be assigned to at the end of May. 

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