Community Fears Permanent Closure of the Children’s School

On July 1, parents and teachers of the Children’s School (TCS) at Claremont McKenna College (CMC) were, according to some community members, abruptly notified of a decision to close for the 2020-2021 academic year. Several teachers and parents voiced concerns that they had not been included in the discussion to close the school and created a petition with over 600 signatures. Many parents of TCS expressed concerns that the school would be closed permanently. In the email announcing the closure, CMC President Hiram Chodosh and Vice President of Business Coreen Rodgers explained that they closed the school because CMC still does “not know whether the County will authorize the College to reopen its campus and whether local health conditions will remain sufficiently favorable.” CMC also stated that currently, there are no plans to permanently close the school.

Founded in 1936, the Children’s School “provides a language based, developmentally appropriate program for children ranging in age from two to six years. It accommodates children from the Claremont College community and from the community at large.” Those directly affiliated with the Colleges are given priority for admission.

The petition calls for CMC to “take a step back from the seemingly drastic decision to close completely for the coming year and instead to put together a more inclusive process that considers intermediate and phased solutions. . . [the community is] requesting that, at the very least, CMC issue an apology to TCS staff and faculty and publicly acknowledge and celebrate their years of dedication to serving countless children and families.”

While teachers and staff have not been officially fired, some believe that the school will close permanently. According to an update on the petition, teachers were originally ordered to collect their teaching materials from TCS and hand in their keys on August 31, but around July 25, teachers were notified that these actions should be done in the coming days. The petition continues, stating that the community “fear[s] this is confirmation of the rumors that CMC is planning (and had been along) to repurpose the TCS buildings for use by undergrads, purportedly as a COVID quarantine and treatment facility.  Apparently they are planning to demolish the very cute kid-sized toilets and replace [them] with adult showers.”

The petition accuses “President Chodosh and COO Rodgers [of] stubbornly refus[ing] to respond to [the community]. Indeed, instead of responding, they have ask[ed] General Counsel Bibbens to email at least some members of our community, accusing them of harassment and demanding a cease and desist of any contact. What do they have to hide?”

In response to a request for comment by the Independent, the CMC administration explained that “The Children’s School will remain closed through AY2020-21. We know how special The Children’s School is to our community and the pressures placed on families due to the countywide closures of so many schools. We decided to close The Children’s School for this school year because it was important to put the health and safety of our families and our staff first. We too are facing the disappointment of not being allowed to bring our students back in August.  Our current plan is to reopen The Children’s School in the fall of 2021 if the public health situation improves by then.” Per the response email, a permanent closure of The Children’s School “is not under consideration, currently.” 

CMC also expanded upon concerns regarding construction on the Cottages at The Children’s School. “With the school now closed, we are currently studying options to convert a cottage to a COVID clinic and testing site to support our staff and faculty. Our most immediate plan is to accommodate a nurse and medical assistant to support daily screening and testing to assure the safety of our essential on-campus faculty and staff. The front office and adjoining parking lot are a private and quiet place for our community to receive clinical support and services during the COVID crisis. This is [an] important safety feature for returning students in the spring.”

According to CMC, “[t]he decision to close The Children’s School (TCS) for 2020-21 academic year was solely based on the public health risks and uncertainties associated with COVID-19 pandemic, and in recognition that the College would not have the capability to operate the Children’s School in a reasonably safe manner and in compliance with anticipated public health guidelines. The College’s good faith and legitimate concerns about the health and safety risks associated with operating the Children’s School next year have only been reinforced during the past several weeks as the conditions in the LA County region continue to worsen. The College understands the disappointment of the community.  The decision was not easy, and made only after careful consideration of all possible options.” 

CMC also stated that “TCS had been closed since mid-March when the pandemic forced the shutdown of the entire campus. Since that time, the College has been actively monitoring changing health conditions. Parents were notified as soon as the College made the decision that it would not be possible to re-open TCS for the 2020-21.” The CMC administration stated that “[t]he College recognizes that TCS is a special place. It is grateful to all of the TCS teachers who helped the school grow into such a beloved institution.”

Claremont McKenna College is a top-tier liberal arts institution and member of the Claremont Colleges Consortium. It shares a campus with Pomona College, Harvey Mudd College, Scripps College, and Pitzer College.

 

The article’s opening paragraph has been updated to improve clarity.

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