Nichols Elementary School must be reopened

Sun Herald

As students from Chicago’s Northwestern University School of Law and the University of Chicago Law School, we consider ourselves extremely lucky to have spent March 17-21 serving the Biloxi community. During this time, we volunteered with the Mississippi Center for Justice and gathered signatures for a petition to reopen Nichols Elementary School.

We are extremely puzzled by the Biloxi School Board’s decision to close Nichols.

First, it strikes us as nothing short of odd that the board would close the top performing “Blue Ribbon” elementary school in the district. Not only was Nichols unparalleled in performance, it was also housed in a state-of-the-art building that cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

Second, the decision to close Nichols was made with virtually no input from the community. As we walked through neighborhoods rebuilt by residents who refused to be washed out and swept away by the hurricane that ravaged Biloxi in 2005, we were impressed with the resilience of the Biloxi community. However, the number of vacant lots peppered throughout the Biloxi neighborhoods also sobered us. Many of the folks we spoke to said that many families with children were unwilling to move back because Nichols had been closed. They fear a “blight” will fall on the community. Nichols “has history.” Generations of Biloxi residents have sent their children to Nichols. Nichols graduates are proud of its high academic standards and of the community bonds the school fostered and maintained.

Finally, what little communication the Nichols community and concerned citizens have received regarding the closure of Nichols has been contradictory, at best. The board has stated that one of the main reasons Nichols was closed is because there was no money to keep it open. This argument holds no water: the Kellogg Foundation offered the district $1.5 million to keep the school open for three years, and the board refused to accept. Furthermore, district revenue is up. Yet the school district spends proportionately less on elementary education than it has in the past.

We strongly urge the board to reconsider its decision. Schools are the heart and soul of our communities, and they should only be closed as a last resort. No decision of this magnitude should be made without input from the community. The evidence demonstrates that despite being presented with a plethora of alternatives, this board chose to close the best elementary school in Biloxi. In a decision that defied logic and subverted any semblance of social responsibility, the Biloxi School Board single-handedly cast a shadow on Biloxi’s cultural past, its thriving present and its promising future. Nichols Elementary School must be reopened, and the community must be given its voice back.

NISREEN HASIB Northwestern University School of LawAlternative Spring Break

University of Chicago Law SchoolSpring Break of Service