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Published: Thursday, 6/3/2010

Libbey's students fear loss of 'family' in school closing

BY SARAH MERVOSH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Sydnee Washington said she was both angry and nostalgic when she learned of the decision to close Libbey High School.

But more than that, the teenager — who just completed her junior year at Libbey — said she's worried about spending her senior year at Scott High School, where she says years of animosity between rivals could potentially result in gang fights.

“Scott and Libbey, they don't mix,” she said. “I'm worried about our education. The teachers, how they are going to act and also the students. Because if I go to Scott, there's going to be fighting every day.”

The potential for conflict was just one concern raised after the Toledo Board of Education's recent decision to close Libbey.

Libbey students finished their exams yesterday and cleaned out their lockers. Seniors will celebrate their commencement ceremony today, marking an end for the sprawling 1923 building on Western Avenue in South Toledo.

Come fall, the 531 students attending Libbey will attend Scott, Waite, or Bowsher high schools.

Police Chief Mike Navarre said the clashing of different groups is a legitimate concern, but not a new problem.

“It's going to be a little bit of a cultural change, but that exists in the current makeup of schools,” he said. “Libbey has different ethnic groups, different neighborhood groups, different gangs if you use that term. And we have problems there.”

Chief Navarre said gangs are generally based on neighborhoods rather than schools.

“A lot of the gangs in Toledo, the name of the gang contains the name of the street,” he said. “If you defined gangs by what public high school they went to you'd only have five or six, but the truth of the matter is there are more than 100.”

TPS Superintendent John Foley said action has been taken to ensure that schools continue to be a “safe haven” for students.

He said about 150 students took advantage of the opportunity to visit their new school Tuesday and the principals of the receiving schools have introduced themselves to Libbey students. There will be an open house in the fall.

“I think everyone is cooperating and doing their best to make sure those students are welcomed,” he said.

Another cause for concern is some who believe that Libbey's closure will cause more students to drop out of school.

“I'm upset because a lot of my friends are saying they're dropping out because Libbey closed,” said Alexa Rocha, a Libbey freshman. “They can't just separate us. We're like a big family.”

Na'Risa Washington, left, and her sister, Na-Reze, leave Libbey High School, which closes for good,  after taking their final exams yesterday. Na'Risa says she hopes to attend Bowsher next year. Na'Risa Washington, left, and her sister, Na-Reze, leave Libbey High School, which closes for good, after taking their final exams yesterday. Na'Risa says she hopes to attend Bowsher next year.
THE BLADE/DAVE ZAPOTOSKY Enlarge | Buy This Photo

Mr. Foley said he doesn't foresee a large jump in the drop-out rate, but will not know for sure until the fall.

“That's certainly part of our effort to make sure that kids know there is a place for them.”

The school's closure will also change the dynamic of the surrounding community.

“Everything was positive about Libbey. To see it close, it bothers me. It really does. It's really going to hurt this community,” said James Rose, a 1976 graduate of Libbey who lives in the area. “I think you're going to see some people move out.”

But Don Holder, who has lived in the area surrounding Libbey for four years, said Libbey's closing could be beneficial to the neighborhood.

“There's a lot of crap that goes on here in the neighborhood because of the kids that go to that school,” he said, citing several houses on his block that were set on fire.

“The house behind us burned down two weeks ago,” he said. “It has to be mischief. I don't think a grown-up would burn a family out of their own house.”

Though Mr. Foley said the decision to close Libbey was a financial one, school board member Jack Ford previously raised it as a racial issue.

Mr. Ford voted against closing the school and said when it comes to TPS, the black community “always gets the short end of the stick.”

Mr. Ford could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Robin Jones, who lives in the neighborhood next to Libbey, said she doesn't see the decision that way.

“Libbey has been falling apart ever since I can remember,” she said. “They're just looking at the bottom dollar. I don't think they're considering the students there at all.”

Mr. Rose said he is unsure whether the decision to close Libbey had to do with race.

“In some ways I do and in some ways I don't,” he said. “When all these other schools were getting new buildings and Libbey wasn't involved in it, I don't know if that has to do with race or not.”

But one thing is clear — students, alumni, and the community will be losing a part of their history.

“My grandma went here, my Mom, now I go here. I was planning on graduating from here,” said De'Vante Meyers, who will be a sophomore. “I was like wow, how could they do that? This is our home.”

Mr. Rose, whose wife and children also attended Libbey, said he will miss the presence of the big brick building in the community.

“I just hate to see the old building go down,” he said. “Whatever they put here, it's just not going to be the same.”

But the impact of the closure will be felt most by the students whose lives it will change.

Eric David, who participated in track, basketball, and football for Libbey, won't become involved in sports in the fall because playing for other schools “wouldn't be the same.”

The junior also wonders if it will affect his chances of getting a college scholarship.

But of all the fears the students have about changing schools, they said they will miss their high school and the community they created there the most.

“We're all just a family,” Miss Washington said. “We're going to miss each other.”

Contact Sarah Mervosh at:smervosh@theblade.comor 419-724-6050.



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