They met during a community meeting in Elkins High School; three women among hundreds of Fort Bend ISD parents making their way to blank sheets of paper called “parking lot papers” to provide questions and suggestions to address capacity issues.
They didn’t like the idea that elementary school children were learning in portable classrooms. They didn’t like the overcrowding they saw in the middle school. So they attended meetings, they read, they researched, and they organized.
They saw the recommendations from the 30-member community volunteer group looking at the facilities master plan and they liked the idea of an addition being constructed at First Colony Middle School with enrollment balanced between First Colony Middle School (FCMS) and Fort Settlement Middle School (FSMS).
The 2018 steering committee voted May 1 to recommend an addition but that all changed May 7 when the discussion turned to construct an addition on Fort Settlement. On May 14, during an 8.5-hour meeting, the FBISD Board of Trustees switched gears and voted to build a 12-classroom addition onto Fort Settlement Middle School.
The mothers were frustrated and outraged. They created a Facebook page called “Safe, Smart and Sustainable Schools in Fort Bend ISD.”
They helped organize a change.org petition, gathering more than 1,000 signatures and sent an open letter to the board of trustees and Superintendent Charles Dupre asking them to reverse the decision about Fort Settlement Middle School.
“Why would you knowingly and purposely overcrowd a school, especially a middle school. The young are already feeling isolated, you are making it easier for them to fall through the cracks,” said parent Melanie Armel.
The parents spoke to the Fort Bend Star last week but add they represent many voices from communities who want the board to show leadership.
“We are working together with many concerned community members from Commonwealth, Avalon, Brazos Landing, Telfair and Colony Meadows,” said parent Judy Zhao. “I believe most of the board are doing the best for the kids, but that decision made at one in the morning when they were exhausted and sleepy, I’m asking them to revisit based on the data.”
Data shows that Fort Settlement Middle School is already at 110 percent capacity. That will increase with projected growth from Riverstone.
According to the data provided to the board, Fort Settlement will reach 1,537 students (110 percent capacity) in 2018-19, 1,601 students (114 percent capacity) in 2019-20, and 1,675 students (120 percent capacity) in 2020-21, and then will continue to increase for the next several years to 1,898 students in 2027-28.
“Why is Fort Settlement taking on an unnecessary burden from overcrowding, stressed out teachers and administrators. And kids with less access to counselors at a fragile time of development are falling through the cracks when there is already capacity available at First Colony two miles away,” asked parent Elena Farah.
According to state testing numbers, the top three middle schools are Fort Settlement Middle School; Sartartia, located in New Territory; and First Colony so there should be no reason to reject a middle school, say the parents.
Both FCMS and FSMS are located two miles apart. There is room inside First Colony Middle School but there are concerns about rezoning students who have already been moved because of Hurricane Harvey.
“They say they want community input. There is a difference between community input and community noise. You’re making decisions based on competing noise levels and most number of T-shirts. They have this steering committee working and they had a paid professional consultant and adding to Fort Settlement was not one of the recommendations,” said Zhao.
In light of the rash of school shootings across the nation, the district said it would do more. The governor recommended single entry buildings.
The parents say the portables make their children sitting ducks. The issue is addressed in the petition.
“FBISD is spending millions of dollars updating schools with bulletproof security vestibules, yet the board essentially voted to intentionally, and indefinitely, house portable buildings at Fort Settlement. Portable buildings are not secure. Portable buildings are not bulletproof. Locking the door on a portable building is not even close to being as secure as inside a school building. Building a short, thin mesh wire fence is not even close to being as secure as inside a school building. There is a solution that would not require any portables, now and in the future, and would keep all the students safe – balance enrollment between First Colony and Fort Settlement. That is the only safe solution for our kids,” the petition states.
Farah said she voted yes for the 2014 bond.
“When the 2014 bond was passed, voters were told that more than $4 million would be allocated to renovations and upgrades/expansions of First Colony Middle School so that it could specifically accommodate the growth of part of Riverstone,” Farah said. “To the best of my understanding, nearly $1.5 million of this budget was subsequently reallocated to other needs and out of the remaining balance left for FCMS, only 13 percent has been spent according to the Watch Us Grow document presented to the Board on May 14). Why?”
During the May 14 meeting, trustee KP George cited the age of the school and noted that Riverstone families have already been rezoned once during Hurricane Harvey.
Farah and others challenged the age issue saying the district needs to maintain its older buildings.
“If the district continues to fail to maintain FCMS it will most certainly fall into disrepair even sooner than 10 years,” said Farah. “We, as voters, approved the money to invest in FCMS. Why hasn’t the school been repaired? Why the last minute 1 a.m. switcheroo from adding and expanding to FCMS to adding/expanding classrooms AND adding portables to FSMS?
“This decision would result in an FSMS that has nearly 2,000 students, some in portables, while FCMS would have under 1,000 over the same time period and will remain underutilized and underinvested in, This is a race to the bottom,” she said.
Farah and at least 1,000 voters said in their petition that they want a change and threatened to vote no on the new bond that the district is preparing.
“We, the undersigned, respectfully request the FBISD Board of Trustees rescinds the motion to construct an addition to Fort Settlement. The recommendation given by the FBISD administration and both the 2013 and 2018 steering committees should be upheld, which is to balance enrollment between Fort Settlement and First Colony Middle Schools. We are registered voters, with most of us residing in the most active voting district in Fort Bend County, and we do not support the decision to build an addition at Fort Settlement. Therefore, we will be forced to vote “no” for the upcoming FBISD bond proposal. Please reconsider the motion made on May 14, 2018, regarding building an addition onto Fort Settlement Middle School,” the petition says.