By Marissa Armas

DENVER (CBS4)– Many Denver community members are applauding the Denver Public Schools superintendent after he made a bold move on Thursday to put a pause on a plan that would have closed or consolidated certain low-enrollment schools. DPS parent and community member Kathy Onken said she’s feeling some relief after superintendent Dr. Alex Marrero announced the news.

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Onken’s two sons continued on to middle and high school, but her family has longtime roots in the Westwood and Knapp Elementary community. Onken also has two nieces who currently attend Barnum Elementary, another southwest Denver school that is on the list.

“I think that’s a good decision. It gives the schools more time to think about what they need to do,” said Onken. “And it really shows that he cares about what the parents and the community are saying.”

The Small Schools resolution was passed by the Board of Education in June, before Marrero was appointed to the superintendent position. The list consists of 19 district schools with low-enrollment, and majority of the schools are in low-income communities. In the letter sent out to parents on Thursday Marrero said he’s been listening and learning from the community and right now his goal is to focus on pandemic recovery.

“Once we are further along in our recovery from the pandemic, we will re-engage in this conversation, and determine next steps on the best path forward,” Marrero said.

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Nicholas Martinez, an education advocate and co-founder of Transform Education Now said he agrees this “pause” was a safe move but said this doesn’t address the issue of declining enrollment head-on.

“Why is it just schools that are predominantly filled with black and brown students being consolidated? Why is this not a wider conversation around all of our schools that are currently under-enrolled?” Martinez said.

Martinez references Bromwell Elementary, which has similar enrollment numbers as Cole Arts & Science Academy (CASA) and is on the list to get consolidated, but Bromwell has more financial support from parents. Bromwell is not on the list to get closed or consolidated. Bromwell also has fewer students on free and reduced lunch. Martinez believes a lot of this comes down to budgetary purposes and he said the district needs to do a better job at community engagement.

“No matter when we start this conversation, it has to be driven by the people most affected,” said Martinez. “And it should be done so in a way that both honors the legacy of those schools and it meets the needs of those communities.”

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And for parents like Onken, she’s looking forward to when the time comes to have the conversation again.

“Think about the families, think about their struggles,” Onken said.

CBS4 reached out to district officials for comment, but they were not available.

Marissa Armas