Nevada City Planning Commission OK’s relocation of Earle Jamieson Educational Options
The Nevada County Superintendent of Schools has received the go-ahead from the Nevada City Planning Commission to relocate an alternative education school to Nevada City.
The commission at its May 19 meeting unanimously approved a conditional use permit that will allow the office of education to move Earle Jamieson Educational Options from its current site on McCourtney Road in Grass Valley to 112 Nevada City Highway in Nevada City.
It’s a move the county office of education says is not only necessary, but financially prudent. The office of education is losing its lease on the property that houses Earle Jamieson, which serves 7-12 grade students who have been expelled from their current school, referred to the program by their probation officer or have been deemed truant by the School Attendance Review Board.
Meanwhile, the property at 112 Nevada City Highway, which is owned by the office of education and used for many of its administrative operations, will soon be vacant; the office is moving all of its administrative personnel into a newly purchased $1.35 million building at 380 Crown Point Circle in Grass Valley.
However, the plan to relocate Earle Jamieson to Nevada City Highway has been criticized by several of the property’s neighbors, who previously expressed concerns that the school would threaten the safety of the neighborhood and bring increased traffic to an already-busy intersection near Ridge Road and Zion Street.
A handful of those neighbors reiterated their concerns to the planning commission on May 19.
Mike Spargo, who lives on Nevada City Highway with his wife and 6-year-old daughter, noted the alternative education program has high suspension and dropout rates. He said while he believes in helping the school’s youth, it’s also clear that the students are at Earle Jamieson “because they’ve established a negative pattern in life.”
Spargo said the school won’t add any value to the neighborhood.
“Even if there are no problems with the students at the school, the stigma attached to it will create a sense of unease,” he said.
Spargo wasn’t alone in expressing that unease.
“To find out that they were going to locate Earle Jamieson there made my head explode,” neighbor Julie Langston told the commission. “I live right there. It’s almost in my backyard. It ruins my property for me, for my sense of wellbeing.”
Neighbor concerns were combatted by a group of educators from schools throughout the county who shared their experiences with Earle Jamieson students and the school — a supportive environment students attend for a semester or two to receive individualized attention and recover lost academic credits before returning to their original school, they said.
“These are good kids that have made quick, brash decisions,” said Chris Roberts, principal at Lyman Gilmore Middle School. “They’re not the kind of students or kids that have been portrayed today by some of the people who have spoken.”
Superintendent of Schools Holly Hermansen told the commission the school hasn’t received any complaints from its neighbors on McCourtney Road. She said the school serves no more than 20 students at one time; the majority are there because of attendance issues and are highly supervised by two staff members throughout the day.
Several educators stressed the importance of empathizing with the students, and warned against stereotyping them without having complete information.
“There’s a bigger issue with demonizing children and criminalizing them without really knowing what they’re there for, or their specific backgrounds and stories,” said Randee Koller, who teaches at Western Sierra YouthBuild, a Grass Valley-based academic and vocational training school next to Earle Jamieson on McCourtney Road. “I hope that’s not part of the logic in this, because to me that’s really damning as a society to do things like that.”
Brad Croul, the chair of the planning commission, said he understood the concerns of residents near the Nevada City Highway site, but added that Earle Jamieson seems to have adequate security measures in place to ensure the school runs smoothly.
Commissioner John Parent denounced any notions of a “not in my backyard” philosophy, as well as the idea that the school’s students should be perceived as a threat.
“I think that’s insulting to children in this community, and I don’t even like to address it,” he said.
Pamela Meek, the commission’s vice-chair, echoed that sentiment. She said she had visited Earle Jamieson earlier in the week, and suggested the neighborhood turn the negative energy surrounding the issue into positive energy.
“How about making them a big banner to welcome them to the new school?” Meek said. “Turn your heads around. This is a good thing.”
However, the planning commission did acknowledge the high level of concern of the school’s new neighbors by adding one condition to its approval of the use permit. The commission will review the project after the fall semester of 2017, and reserved the ability to make possible revisions to the permit at that time.
Hermansen said she expects Earle Jamieson to relocate to the Nevada City Highway site prior to October 2016.
The public has 15 days from May 19 to appeal the planning commission’s decision. If an appeal is filed, the issue will go before the Nevada City Council.
To contact Staff Writer Emily Lavin, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4230.
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