Hillsborough school board votes to close F-rated school despite pleas from parents

Hillsborough County school board members voted this week to close and repurpose Just Elementary School, despite pleas from community members to reconsider the decision.

The board's 4-3 vote in favor of closing the school is the first of two votes that would need to pass in order to finalize the decision.

"We really need to look at each community and see where we can provide the best resources for our students," board chair Nadia Combs told FOX 13 Wednesday.

Closing Just Elementary was part of the district's discussion about re-drawing school boundaries. The board eventually decided to delay the implementation of any re-zoning plan until at least the 2024-25 school year. Closing Just Elementary, however, was the only piece of that plan that remained on the table for the upcoming school year.

Hillsborough County School Board votes to close Just Elementary School.

Hillsborough County School Board votes to close Just Elementary School. 

Board members who voted in favor of closing the school said it's underperforming, under-enrolled and under-staffed.

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The school, which has an F-rating, has enough room for 600 students, but only 283 students currently attend Just. Combs said nearly half of the teachers are substitutes.

"That's not fair for a child," Combs said. "At the end of the day, for me, it's not about the building, but it's about the person that's in front of that child consistently every day. That's what's going to really impact that student more than anything else."

Exterior of Just Elementary School.

Exterior of Just Elementary School. 

The decision followed several parents and community members urging the board to allow the school to remain open. A number of parents voiced concern that the closure will overwhelmingly impact low-income minority families; more than 80 percent of the students at Just are African American.

"It's always the black and brown students. It's always a school in an underserved area," said board member Henry "Shake" Washington, who voted against the proposal.

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"You don't remove Ernest E. Just School. You make it better," added a concerned community member during public comment.

Students walk with backpacks outside of school.

Students walk with backpacks outside of school. 

Board member Dr. Stacy Hahn, however, believes the school is out of second chances to succeed.

"This school is no longer in intervention mode," said Hahn. "Look at the data. This school, these kids are in crisis."

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If the board follows through with plans to close Just Elementary, current students would be sent to either Tampa Bay Boulevard or Booker T. Washington Elementary Schools.

Exterior of Just Elementary School.

Exterior of Just Elementary School. 

"Is it a little challenging to have to be three miles away instead of a school that's just a few feet away from you? Obviously, yes. But we want to make sure those students are getting a great quality education," said Combs.

The board will take a second vote on May 9. If it passes and the school's closure is finalized, the district will decide on a plan to repurpose the building.