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News / Clark County News

Camas School District cuts spark fears

Parents advocate for alternative school after rumors of closure spread

By Griffin Reilly, Columbian staff writer
Published: March 5, 2023, 6:04am

News of impending budget cuts in the Camas School District has spread panic among one group of parents and students, who fear one of the district’s alternative choice schools, the Hayes Freedom School, may be shut or consolidated elsewhere into the district.

In a letter sent to parents on Feb. 22, Camas superintendent John Anzalone said the district is targeting a budget reduction of $6 million for the 2023-2024 school year. Acknowledging social media posts regarding potential changes, Anzalone said Hayes and other smaller, choice high schools wouldn’t be shuttered amid budget evaluation.

“One of many options under consideration is looking for ways to share staffing among our smaller, choice high schools: Camas Connect Academy, Discovery High School, and Hayes Freedom High School,” Anzalone wrote. “I want our community to know that we will not eliminate any of our high schools during this arduous budget process, and Hayes Freedom High School will not be relocated.”

Despite the reassurance, some parents still fear the district won’t hold true to its promise, as the district hasn’t specifically mentioned the school’s fall 2023 status.

“They keep saying Hayes will stay open during this budget process,” said Kimberly Berry, whose daughter attends Hayes. “I want (Camas) to say that they’re going to keep Hayes open come September, and that’s not what they’re giving us.”

Hayes Freedom

Though Hayes is among the smaller schools in Camas with just 144 students as of fall 2022, it serves some of the district’s most at-risk, neurodivergent children with what’s called a “trauma-informed” approach to education.

“They have held my hand in raising my daughter. They’ve been the partner and been the village to raise both of my daughters,” Berry said. “They’re so informed on mental health, and that’s a huge thing for my family — to be able to be in a place that supports mental health stabilization.”

Starting in early February, Berry and other parents said they learned from internal district emails and conversations with staff that Camas might look to consolidate programs and learning styles from Hayes into other schools in the district, such as the newly built Discovery High School.

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A reason for skepticism of the district’s promises, Berry said, was the sudden discontinuation of the Integrated Arts and Academics program in 2020. Articles from the time of the discontinuation written in Camas High School’s student newspaper, The Camasonian, reveal students at the time were surprised by the move.

In response, Berry started using the hashtag #onehallwayoneheart and created a Facebook Group called “Save Hayes Freedom High School” to start collecting stories of the school’s success from parents and past students. The group has 455 members as of Friday afternoon.

“Hayes Freedom High School welcomed me with open arms,” wrote Miranda Batten, a 2013 Hayes graduate.

“I struggled with severe anxiety due to the huge crowds at (Camas high School), on my own. Hayes Freedom not only helped me overcome my anxiety but also helped me know I’m not alone with it.”

Berry said the community has helped her remember just how powerful the school’s mission has been for her and others.

“(Hayes’ tight-knit community and small building) allows staff and the principal to have direct eyes on the students, they are able to be seen and build relationships with them, and that is critical especially when you have a high neurodivergent populations,” Berry said. “In big box, cookie-cutter settings you can’t get that.”

Next steps in budget process

Anzalone’s letter said that the district’s priorities in any budget cuts will focus on the district office, building administration and both classified and certificated staff.

“In order to minimize impacts on students, we will first focus reductions on district office personnel and building administration,” Anzalone wrote.

The letter also included a general timeline for what will happen next.

In mid-March, Camas will announce an initial round of budget cuts; by the end of the month, the district hopes to have notified all impacted staff. May 15 and June 1 are the contractual deadlines to notify impacted certificated and classified staff members, respectively.

“The only reason I live in Camas is that school,” said Berry, whose eldest daughter also went to Hayes. “I’ve sacrificed everything to be able to live as a single parent in Camas so that my daughters could attend there.”

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