Lawrence kids must relocate

With less than a month until the start of the school year, families of the now-closed Lawrence Elementary School are making plans for children to attend elsewhere, with the majority headed to Newport Elementary.

The March board meeting that saw the 3-2 vote to close the small, community elementary in Dart meant that its approximately 40 students have to be sent to neighboring schools.

Though many Lawrence families expressed frustration and threatened to take their children out of district, only a small handful of students are leaving.

“I’ve talked to some parents over the course of the summer, and out of the 42 kids we’ve had, I believe seven have applied to Fort Frye to go to Lower Salem,” said Frontier Superintendent Bruce Kidder. “I’m also losing one young man that’s going to Wood County Christian.”

Kidder said parents cited geography as the reason, as the distance to Fort Frye’s Salem-Liberty Elementary is closer than Newport Elementary.

“But the bulk of them will be going to Newport,” Kidder said. “But they do have a choice, and they can go to Newport or New (Matamoras).”

After the district made the decision to close Lawrence, which is projected to save approximately $120,000, transportation officials decided Newport, as opposed to New Matamoras Elementary, would be the best choice to funnel Lawrence students to minimize bus riding times.

“I went there and my kids went there, and they have one of their kids going to Newport now because they have some special services their son needs that Lawrence did not offer,” said Marietta resident Verna Martin, 78. “But we did fight for (Lawrence) and have been concerned about this for a while.”

The Frontier district still owns the Lawrence building in Dart, and is currently working on getting it cleaned up so it has a chance at passing EPA inspections. That has presented a challenge due to the frequent flooding that has occurred on the grounds.

“I’m confident about where we are now,” Kidder said. “We’ve got a building to mothball and we’re currently working on what to do with some of the artifacts and historical things, but it’s under control.”

Newport resident Milton Eddy, who has a son that would have been entering Lawrence Elementary as a first-grader this year, is still deciding what is best for his child.

“He has been accepted to enroll at Salem-Liberty, but we haven’t made a decision,” Eddy said. “We would still need to go six miles to get him on a bus there, so we are considering that.”

Eddy said though his son would be close to Newport Elementary and his wife has family near New Matamoras Elementary, the decision is based on more than just convenience.

“As far as my mindset goes, it’s hard to support a school board and a district that is not making good financial decisions,” he said. “I realize we’re having financial problems, but a lot of the excuses for closing our building I believe were not truthful.”

Some argued that keeping Lawrence open was the best decision because the building was already paid off and is less expensive to maintain than the other two schools.

“I can’t sell the building yet,” Kidder said. “I’m not in a hurry, I just want to protect it for now.”

Lawrence Township resident Christy Cobb, 30, has a son that will now be attending Newport in the fall.

“I work all the way in Zanesville, so it’s really hard to send them anywhere else because I don’t want to have to rely on someone else to take him,” she said. “But he’s made some friends that go to Newport and now he’s excited, so if he is, I am too.”

Eddy said Fort Frye will allow his son to show up on the first day of school now that enrollment has been taken care of, allowing his family to make a last-minute decision.

“Once it’s shut down we’ve lost all hope, so I just hope Newport is staffed enough,” Cobb said. “I just liked the smaller classroom sizes, because they need one-on-one attention, and Lawrence has that.”

Currently the windows of Lawrence Elementary are boarded up for safety and desks and chairs have been moved to accommodate an influx of students at Newport.

Kidder said the school’s small staff is being spread to the remaining elementary schools and the high school.