Parents decry plan for Morro Bay, Los Osos sixth-graders

A plan to move all sixth-grade students in Los Osos and Morro Bay from their elementary schools to middle school by the San Luis Coastal Unified School District is being met by resistance from parents.

The new program, called STEAM — Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math, is intended to emphasize math and science in the curriculum.

It mimics a growing trend across the nation to increase student interest in those subjects and guide them toward related careers.

About 135 students at Del Mar Elementary in Morro Bay and Baywood and Monarch Grove elementary schools in Los Osos would be required to attend sixth grade at Los Osos Middle School next school year if the San Luis Coastal school board approves the plan in December.

But parents of affected students say they are worried the early transition to middle school will force their children to grow up faster than they’d like.

“My primary concern is that I don’t want my cute little 11-year old daughter to be hanging around with eighth-grade boys,” said Paul Irving, a parent of two students at Monarch Grove Elementary. “I just don’t need it — the bullying, exposure to drugs and alcohol, adult content. What I would enjoy is for my kid to be a kid for another year.”

School district officials say the move is necessary to alleviate future overcrowding at two of the three elementary schools. Los Osos Middle School has room for the students, said Rick Robinett, assistant superintendent of personnel and education services.

The middle school, which is fed students from Los Osos and Morro Bay elementary schools for seventh and eighth grades, has only 380 students enrolled but a capacity of 750.

In the mid-2000s, the middle school had sixth-graders on campus, but because it was voluntary, the number of sixth-graders dwindled to a point where it was not viable, Robinett said.

The new program would be mandatory.

“When it is time for my children to go to middle school, Los Osos Middle School seems like quite a good place to do it. But not yet,” said Matt Green, also a parent of two at Monarch Grove Elementary.

“The larger population problem has to be solved with another school in the near future, not by punishing a thriving, balanced school that is not completely overflowing.”

The three elementary schools that will be affected have scored at or above the state academic achievement benchmarks set by state and federal guidelines.

Sixth-grade students in San Luis Obispo will remain at their current elementary schools — mainly because of a lack of space at Laguna Middle School in San Luis Obispo to accommodate all of the students.

Another factor is cost. Students in the STEAM program would all receive a netbook or an iPad at a total estimated cost of about $100,000.

“If we had our druthers, we might be trying it in San Luis Obispo, too, because there are a lot of us that believe in the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade model,” Robinett said. “But we have to start small. The future of education is headed toward not purchasing textbooks, and we can probably at this point budget for 150 students. I’m not just sure if we can do it on a larger scale right now.”

The school board will decide Dec. 11 whether the program will be implemented in the 2013-14 school year.

Irving, who said he has attended most of the public meetings about the proposal held at the affected schools in October, said he learned about the change from “chatter on the playground.”

Both Irving and Green said they have received the impression from district officials that it is a “done deal” and have yet to hear of any alternatives.

“I really do think the trustees are being sincere about trying to do the right thing for the kids, but they are being sold a bill of goods,” Irving said. “Everybody feels that it has already been decided. Any participatory meetings are just an indulgence, and the program is going to be rammed down our throats, whether we like it or not.”