Helmers parents deliver open letter to SUSD

Dozens of attendees listen to plans for the renovations of Charles Helmers Elementary School at a community meeting at the school in Santa Clarita on Tuesday, February 11, 202. Dan Watson/The Signal

A group of parents of Charles Helmers Elementary School students read an open letter to the Saugus Union School District governing board to address recent plans to move students next year, during a community meeting Tuesday night.

Helmers is expected to face a campus-space shortage next year while the school undergoes construction. After a presentation of temporary student-housing options by Superintendent Colleen Hawkins and Nick Heinlein, assistant superintendent of business for the district, three parents lined up to read an open letter, asking the district to consider negotiating with the city of Santa Clarita to place temporary housing on Northbridge Park land adjacent to the campus.

“We urge the district to commence negotiations with the city of Santa Clarita to acquire the park land that is crucial to creating state-of-the art Helmers campus, keep Helmers kids together and ensure that neighborhoods surrounding our school thrive for years to come,” Allison Vanderlip, Charyl Torres and Kerstin Schlegel stated in the letter.

Construction at Helmers Elementary will require the relocation of approximately 13 classrooms, equivalent to 280 students, according to Hawkins. Construction is set to begin January 2021 and anticipated to be completed in 2023.

The construction will replace portable classrooms with a permanent building, which includes classrooms, a flex room and a playground.

During the community meeting, Hawkins and Heinlein presented possible options of student housing, which included relocating multiple grades to North Park Elementary School, involuntarily transferring students to other school sites and putting portable classrooms in either the parking lot or in the park behind the campus.

Hawkins said placing portables at the park wouldn’t be a viable option due to lack of bathroom access and privacy from the public.

Parents at the meeting expressed concerns over emotional health if students were forced to transfer to other school sites or bused to North Park Elementary.

“I know you have to do construction, and it makes me sad to think about not being at this school next year,” said Phoenix Vanderlip, a Helmers Elementary student, in addressing the board. “Please consider me and my friends when making your final decision.”

Parents also were concerned with the short time given by the board to make a decision and the lack of inclusion from the community when construction plans were approved. In the open letter, parents wrote, “On Jan. 25, you informed parents, students, teachers and PTA of a need to discuss Helmers temporary student housing during the new building construction. You then pressured Helmers families to make a swift decision on the temporary housing of Helmers students scheduled to begin June of 2020.”

Parents had the opportunity to fill out a form stating their main concerns about the student housing options presented during the meeting. The board also states an electronic survey will be given to all parents associated with the school so those who were unable to attend the meeting will have the opportunity to give feedback.

A special board study session is scheduled to be held at the district office Feb. 25 at 7 p.m., to allow parents and staff to address the board with any additional questions.

A final decision is expected to be presented to the board for approval during the March 10 board meeting.

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