Seattle Schools wants another Martin Luther King elementary

Mar 29, 2010, 2:14 AM | Updated: Mar 28, 2011, 3:46 pm

The Seattle School District closed Martin Luther King Elementary school in 2006, despite protests, lawsuits, and school board member recall efforts from the community.

Now the district wants to rename another elementary Martin Luther King so it can “continue to recognize this great American civil rights leader.” They’ll have a public meeting about the name change April 6th from 7-8 p.m. at Brighton Elementary – 6725 45th Ave. South in Seattle – the site they’ve chosen to become the new King school.

No relatives of the old Brighton family will be on hand to object, because it’s not named after a person. It gets its name from the Brighton Beach community, which settler Everett Smith founded in 1890. The first Brighton school was built in 1901. The current Brighton Elementary is one of the district’s newer schools – built for $18 million and opened in 2004.

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And what happened to Seattle’s MLK Elementary in the Madison Valley?

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When the school opened in 1913, it was called Harrison School. In 1974, students led the push to rename it in honor of the Reverend Martin Luther King Junior.

The school’s small size and enrollment struggles led to its closure almost four years ago. In the fall before it closed, Martin Luther King was the smallest elementary in the Seattle School District with about 100 students. By comparison, most public elementaries in Seattle have between 300 and 500 kids.

I covered the closure at the time, and attended several community meetings where parents said the district had abandoned them. They thought the small size was good for their children. Their arguments didn’t sway the board. The school closed and students were sent to T.T. Minor Elementary.

Parents sued the school district, saying their building was “targeted for closure” because it served primarily African American students, and children from poor families. Before it closed, 61 percent of MLK’s students qualified for free or reduced lunches.

“It’s a shame to see the building in shambles now. No life at all for many years in that eyesore,” says Denise Banner. I talked with her outside the school building this weekend. She says her niece attended the elementary.

She shakes her head slowly and says, “Sometimes I think they want black students to fail.”

Who does she mean by “they?” The school district?

Banner looks to the sky and says, “Everybody.”

She hadn’t heard about the plan to change Brighton’s name to Martin Luther King, but she hopes it doesn’t “suffer the same terrible fate in the future” as the Madison area’s school.

The Seattle School District declared Martin Luther King Elementary a “surplus property,” and has been trying to sell the 1.9 acre lot since last summer. They estimate the property sale will go through by the end of April. Several people object to the district’s plan to sell the school. Instead, they want the property for a community center.

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Seattle Schools wants another Martin Luther King elementary