Inglewood school closures stoke community fear and mistrust


Five schools in the Inglewood Unified School District are slated to close at the end of next academic year. Photo by Robin Estrin.

On a recent Friday afternoon, community activist Fre’Drisha Dixon walks alongside the row of cars parked outside Morningside High School in Inglewood, and asks parents to roll down their windows.

“They're going to tear this school down, and build housing that nobody in our community can even afford,” she tells them. “We can fight to keep Morningside open.”

As proof, Dixon motions down the block at a heap of demolished buildings that were once Clyde Woodworth Elementary School. Inglewood Unified closed Woodworth and merged it with a nearby middle school in 2019. Now Los Angeles-based Harridge Development Group has the right to develop the property and plans to build hundreds of three-story townhomes on the site. 

While some schools slated for closure are not in neighborhoods of rapid economic growth, both Morningside and the former Woodworth site sit four miles east of LAX and a mile south of Inglewood’s booming sports and entertainment district, replete with new, multibillion-dollar stadiums like SoFi and the Intuit Dome.

“Gentrification is happening in Inglewood,” says Dixon. “We have Black and Brown people who are being pushed out. And their plan is to make the improvements when the new community members move in – which of course are people who don't look like the current representation of the city.” 

Demolition crews began tearing down Clyde Woodworth Elementary School in May. Photo by Robin Estrin.

Dixon is fighting to keep open five neighborhood public schools in Inglewood Unified – Hudnall Elementary School, Highland TK-6 School, Kelso TK-6 School, Crozier Middle School, and Morningside High School – that administrators put on a list for closure in March.

The most recent spate of proposed shutdowns would reduce the share of traditional public schools in Inglewood Unified by half in about five years. That serves as a stark reminder of change in Inglewood, and has stoked fears that city officials don’t have the best interest of students and longtime residents at heart.

Community activist and former Inglewood mayoral candidate Fre’Drisha Dixon is leading the effort to stop school closures in Inglewood. Photo by Robin Estrin.

County administrator James Morris maintains that school closures are a result of declining enrollment, and denies any “nefarious plan.” He says the district does not intend to develop Morningside or other school sites before completing the legally required process that begins once a school is closed. 

The number of students in the Inglewood Unified School District dropped from 18,000 in 2002 to about 7,000 currently. That means half of the seats in Inglewood Unified’s classrooms are now empty, and Morris says that figure is projected to grow to two-thirds by 2029-30.

“The school consolidation and closure plan that we're putting forward is about student achievement,” says Morris. “That's the first thing it’s about, and that's the second thing that it's about, and it's the third thing it’s about.”

But some parents blame the district for declining enrollment, saying year-over-year low academic achievement in Inglewood Unified is pushing families away. More than 70% of students in the district tested below proficient in math and reading on state tests last year.

Former Inglewood parent and charter school teacher Victoria Preciado voted with her feet when her daughter’s traditional Inglewood public school, Worthington Elementary, was closed last year. 

“I left the district because I know that my daughter's education is not a priority,” she says.

Inglewood’s financial woes worsen when families leave because school funding in California is tied to average daily attendance. Fewer students means the district is forced to fund schools with less money coming in from the state.

“We're paying for gas bills, water bills, electric bills, administrative staff, and office staff that are not serving the number of students who could be going to that school,” Morris says. “We can't continue to operate the same number of schools.”

Additionally, Morris says, some of those half-empty buildings are falling apart. 

Many of Inglewood’s schools were built in the 1920s and 1930s, and require costly repairs. For example, a rupture in the main gas line beneath Morningside High last January left the campus without heat for a month, and officials were forced to temporarily shutter the building.

James Morris keeps a rusty valve from the gas pipe that burst at Morningside High School last year on the bookshelf in his office. Photo by Robin Estrin.

Closing schools will allow the district to direct scarce resources to the campuses that survive, Morris says, noting the district’s plans to invest $200 million in a renovation of Inglewood High School. Further, the district is planning to build a new high school academy on the former Crozier Middle School site, and a Child Development Center for Inglewood families is also under construction at the former Woodworth site.

“When we go through this school closure plan, we'll be able to have better facilities,” he says. “The whole purpose of closing schools is because we'll be able to do a better job for students.”

Families from Hudnall Elementary School flooded the school board room in April to protest the proposed closures. Photo by Robin Estrin.

But trust between school officials and the community is frayed, due in part to Inglewood’s status as a district in “receivership.”

Twelve years ago, the state took over the school district after local officials severely mismanaged its finances and replaced them with their own administrators. In 2018, oversight of the district moved from the state to Los Angeles County.

Morris is the eighth administrator appointed to the role in 12 years – the longest receivership in California history. He says he is “fully committed” to getting Inglewood Unified out of receivership, and that closing schools will help him fulfill his often-repeated promise that “Inglewood is a district on the move.”

Community activists like Fre’Drisha Dixon are not convinced. 

Annual progress reports from the state-appointed Financial Crisis and Management Assistance Team (FCMAT), which is tasked with monitoring Inglewood Unified’s progress, show the district has made strides, but is still failing to meet the minimum standards in finances and facilities.

“If we've already been under state and county control for 12 years and nothing has improved, that means the state and the county are failing,” Dixon says. “That doesn't mean the district is failing. It doesn't mean the students are failing. It means that the state and county are doing a very poor job of what they're supposed to do.”  



Robin Estrin