ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) – Some parents in an area school district are furious after their school board voted to eliminate programs intended to help low-income students.
The Rockwood School District serves over 20,000 students. Just last week, its board voted to end three programs specifically for black students. Parents who spoke with News 4 said their children and others felt isolated and silenced.
Shemia Reese is a mother of three students in the Rockwood School District. She praises the Catalyst Leadership program which has helped her son.
“To see him use some of the skills he learned in this program is amazing,” Reece said.
“I don’t feel like they’re serving all of our students,” council member Izzy Imig said at the Oct. 6 school board meeting. “So I’m voting no on all three.”
Shante Duncan’s LOVE project was first introduced to the neighborhood ten years ago. SistaKeeper Social and Emotional Learning, led by Tracie Berry-McGhee, has been in the district for five years. The third, Catalyst Leadership Academy and Circles, led by Tony Thompson, has been used by the district for the past four school years.
It was last Thursday when the Rockwood School Board voted to end this program and two others, which have helped empower students through entrepreneurship, as well as social and emotional learning.
Reese is also co-chairman of parent group Rockwood Real. This is a group focused on anti-racism. In partnership with the Rockwood Together group, a letter was drafted to the school board and district administration.
Some parents of @rockwoodschools are upset after the school board voted to eliminate programs intended to help students in need. These students come from low-income families in the city of Saint-Louis.
— David Amelotti (@DavidAmelottiTV) October 11, 2022
It reads in part: “Our district has been mandated by the federal government to fund programs and services aimed at addressing specific educational disparities affecting our Black students at Rockwood. Removing access to these programs, which have successfully provided social, emotional, and academic support to students for many years in the District, severely limits educational and social equity for our Black students.
“It’s not just about the black girl or the black kids, or the kids served by the VICC program,” Reese explained. “It’s about teaching them how to navigate a world that feels different to them so that those skills they learn use them for the rest of their lives.”
One solution proposed by the board was to give teachers the responsibility to fill the void. Rockwood REAL co-president Rachel Pereira said that was not feasible.
“Teachers are already hardly paid, and you expect them to do more work and not get paid,” Pereira said. “Some schools currently do not have a social worker.”
“It’s ridiculous because I feel like people have no idea what these programs entail and don’t have any real training on them because they’re so new to these positions,” said said Pereira. “They didn’t do research, didn’t get feedback from teachers and students, and to even eliminate them goes against everything our organization stands for. It’s incredibly unfair.”
The three low-income student aid programs were funded by VICC, the Voluntary Inter-district Choice Corporation. The desegregation program provided helps 1,002 students who live in the city and attend the Rockwood District School.
The district receives $7,000 per student enrolled in the program.
It cost the VICC $86,000 to run the eliminated programs, which parents consider an essential resource for children.
“The only people who end up getting hurt are our kids, and that’s the big picture that nobody sees,” Reese said. “We say we do things on behalf of the children, but it is the children who are hurt.”
You can learn more about the VICC program here, by clicking to take you to the Rockwood School District annual budget.
News 4 has reached out to the school board for comment, including asking board members to participate in an on-camera interview. We are still awaiting a response.
Meanwhile, the Rockwood School District responded “No Comment” to our request for an on-camera interview regarding the board’s decision to eliminate these programs.
The next district board meeting will be on Thursday, October 20.
“Rockwood has always allocated funds to Title I eligible schools to support reading intervention teachers and literacy coaches,” Mary Lapak, communications director, said in a statement. “We are also required to allocate a portion to the homeless and non-public partners. Our plan is subject to DESE review and approval, like all federal grants. Our Title I funding has always supported these programs, and we have not used it to purchase services for consultants.
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