Tehachapi student relocation draws protest

TEHACHAPI, Calif. The Tehachapi Unified School District is touting a plan that would relocate all of its 300 or so sixth-grade students at Jacobsen Middle School. Parents and teachers though, aren't convinced.

JMS principal Susan Ortega led an informational meeting at the school Wednesday evening to explain the plan to parents and to get public input. Parents had a lot to say.

"As parents, we don't want them integrated with the seventh- and eighth-graders. We don't feel they're mature enough," said Crystal Jaster, who has a son in sixth grade.

Currently, all sixth-grade students in Tehachapi Unified attend classes at the Sixth Grade Center, which is a collection of portable classrooms located at JMS. The portables are located separately from the main campus.

Under the plan unveiled by Ortega, the sixth-grade students would be relocated into their own wing inside the main building. Ortega said one of her main reasons for doing so is because of student safety.

"We would have closer response time not just for an emergency, but for a student who may be having a seizure, a diabetic student whose blood sugar may drop," said Ortega.

The principal said the sixth-graders would have more of a sense of belonging to something rather than being physically isolated in the portables. But, sixth-grade teachers also objected to the proposed change.

"I think it does not address the academic or the social needs of the students like it should," said teacher Don Thiesse.

Ortega pointed out that there are 15 classrooms sitting empty at JMS, which could accommodate the sixth-grade students. Student enrollment in Tehachapi has been declining, she said.

Others questioned the timing of the plan, noting that Tehachapi Unified recently approved the Marc Abernathy Charter School. Some believe the district wants to relocate the students to the main campus and let the charter school use the portables, instead.

No decision has yet been made where the charter school will be located, said Ortega. The school board of trustees will ultimately make a decision later on whether to relocate the students.