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Riverview Gardens transfer parents react to district’s classification upgrade

Shammara Smith's son, Ahmon, is a sophomore at Oakville High. Her daughter, Ahmiya, is in fifth grade at Blaze Elementary in the Mehlville school district.
Provided by Shammara Smith

With the Riverview Gardens School District regaining provisional accreditation in January, parents who transferred their children to other districts under the state’s student transfer law are considering their options.

Even though the change means Riverview no longer has to pay for transfers, the district has made arrangements allowing all 436 transfer students to at least finish out the school year.

But because Riverview will stop providing transportation in June, Shammara Smith doesn’t know if she’ll be able to keep her son, who’s a sophomore in high school, and her daughter, who’s in fifth grade, enrolled in Mehlville.

Many of the 22 districts with Riverview transfer students have agreed to let them stay for up to three years or four years, including the districts where Riverview has been providing transportation since the transfer program began in 2013: Kirkwood and Mehlville.

“I’m just mad. I’m upset about it to tell you the truth,” said Smith. “I don’t want them to go back. My children, once I tell them they’re going to be very upset.”

Smith said she works from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and can’t drive her kids to Mehlville on her own, or even take turns carpooling with another parent.

“That’s still going to be too much for a whole school year every day for five days a week trying to inconvenience someone else,” Smith said, adding that it would be difficult for her to move into the Mehlville school district because she owns her home.

DeAnne Toussaint thinks Riverview’s academic achievement has not improved enough to be a good option for her children.

She said she’s relieved her son Jayven can stay at Ferguson-Florissant and her daughter Charlie can remain at Grand Center Arts Academy until the end of the school year so that she has time find an alternative.

“Either way it goes, I’m going to do what’s best for my children. And I’ll just get my wheels rolling and try to figure something out. The good thing is that I have options,” said Toussaint, who will finish studying to be a teacher this month.

“I’m a lucky one because there are some parents out there that don’t have options. They have to place their children back in Riverview Gardens.”

Toussaint plans to look for a job in another state, or at a school her kids could also attend. If that doesn’t work out, she’s thinking of homeschooling.

DeAnne Toussaint's son Jayven and daughter Charlie are both 11.
Credit Provided by DeAnne Toussaint
DeAnne Toussaint's son Jayven and daughter Charlie are both 11.

“I tried my hardest to put Riverview Gardens in my rearview mirror, and I’m not pleased with what’s going on,” said Toussaint. “I just really feel that the state of Missouri has failed these children all around. To me (the classification upgrade) seems very political. It’s not about what’s best for the children.”

Parents with children currently at Riverview overwhelmingly praised the district at a public hearing last month.

Smith and Toussaint both sent letters to the state board of education asking the board not to give Riverview provisional accreditation.

Assistant commissioner Chris Neale noted their concerns before recommending the classification upgrade Friday.

“I don’t blame the parents who wish their students to be stable in their current environment,” Neale said, before citing the arrangements to keep the transfer students in their current schools through at least the end of the school year as a reason to make the accreditation upgrade effective next semester.

Riverview Gardens has spent more than $23 million complying with the student transfer law since 2013, putting a strain on the district’s budget.

Under the law, Riverview had to pay districts receiving transfer students the full amount the receiving districts spent per pupil, as much as $21,000. Under the new arrangements, Riverview will pay districts $7,000 per transfer student.

Follow Camille on Twitter:  @cmpcamille.