Southwest Fresno residents voiced their concerns Wednesday to Fresno Unified trustees about the need for a new middle school in their neighborhood, demanding that a school be built now, not in several years.
"The history of this absence is decades and decades and decades and decades of busing," said Robert Mitchell.
He called the lack of a traditional middle school in southwest Fresno a "detriment to students" and pointed out that many make a 22-mile round trip out of the neighborhood just to get to school.
Mitchell said a new middle school was identified as a high priority two years ago by Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson. "And not one shovel has been placed in the ground," he said.
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Trustees listened but offered no comments.
The southwest area of Fresno Unified has been without a traditional middle school since Irwin Junior High School was closed in 1979 as part of the district's desegregation plan.
That school was later converted to Edison-Computech middle school, a computer, math and science magnet school designed to attract students from throughout the district. The school has strict academic requirements, and only 10% of the neighborhood students attend Computech.
The district has outlined plans to build a new middle school in the neighborhood -- roughly bounded by Fresno Street and Belmont, Brawley and Church avenues. The school is part of Fresno Unified's overall $940 million facilities master plan, a long-range vision to balance enrollment and adjust school boundaries over the next 15 years.
But a new middle school won't be built for several years, and a firm date and a location have not been made public.
For now, some 455 students continue to be bused north to schools.
Debbie Darden, a southwest Fresno advocate, told trustees she remembers being bused out of the neighborhood in 1978 as part of desegregation efforts. "We're still busing our children out of west Fresno."
Speakers told trustees that developer Terance Frazier has offered to donate vacant land on Martin Luther King Boulevard and Church Avenue for the school. Darden said it's a location preferred by neighborhood residents and would make it easier to start building sooner.
"We deserve better," she said. "We deserve it now."