Silicon Valley students stranded by shuttered schools
Summit Denali parent Jean Somlo (facing the board) said Summit Public Schools' sudden announcement to close forced her to move her daughter to secure a spot in a new school. Photo by Loan-Anh Pham.

    A popular Bay Area charter school system is closing its two Sunnyvale campuses this June despite months of attempts to save them, but parents and teachers said the ordeal is far from over.

    Board members from Summit Public Schools voted to shut down the middle and high schools in Sunnyvale, called Summit Denali, at a special board meeting Thursday. Families and educators said they’re reeling from the decision and now face an uncertain future.

    More than 600 students are currently enrolled at Summit Denali’s Sunnyvale schools, according to state data. Officials have encouraged students to apply to other Summit locations, but many parents say those schools are far away and would require hours of commuting.

    More than 100 parents, students and teachers tuned in virtually for the board meeting. About a dozen attendees spoke during a half-hour public comment window.

    “The fact that we are here less than two months after the initial announcement of Summit’s plan to close Denali gives families and students very little time to plan for the future,” Unite Summit President Justin Kim, who represents the teacher’s union, said. Officials said teachers can apply to transfer to other Summit locations but employment is not guaranteed.

    After shuffling into a closed-door meeting, the board members emerged a half hour later and voted unanimously to close the two schools.

    “The board is being asked to make a decision today from which nothing positive is going to come,” Summit Public Schools CEO Diane Tavenner said. “To all of the members of the Denali community, I’m very sorry.”

    Parents, teachers and the Santa Clara County Board of Education called on Summit Public Schools to make a final decision after the abrupt announcement of Denali’s probable closure in January. Officials blamed a loss of pandemic-era stimulus funds, declining student enrollment and a yearslong budget deficit for the closure. But families have called for accountability, questioning claims of financial problems amid a $31 million investment to construct Denali’s high school, which opened in 2021.

    After the controversial vote, Summit Denali parent organizer Shan Sankaran said he’s worried the upheaval is impacting quality of education. The Sunnyvale resident said he’s concerned about the mental health of his young children, who are in sixth and eighth grade, and their peers with a transition to a new school looming.

    “We need to figure out our next options,” Sankaran told San José Spotlight. “The kids are still in denial. They couldn’t comprehend that the school is going to get closed because they love the school.”

    Kim Nicholson, a teacher at Summit Denali, said she’s afraid that the school’s fate will extend to other Summit locations. The system has six other California locations, including one in San Jose and others in Richmond, Daly City and Redwood City. Nicholson said community input is critical and the board meetings happen when most teachers and parents are working.

    “There’s a lot of unanswered questions,” she added, “and just a question about the future of Summit (Public) Schools in general.”

    Contact Loan-Anh Pham at loa[email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.

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