Elizabeth Brisco is not your usual activist. Slight in stature and soft-spoken, she seems more like a grandmother.
"I am a grandmother," she says. "But I'm a fighter too."
Brisco heads a group of concerned parents and alumni of Stafford Elementary School. Since the Memphis City School Board voted earlier this year to merge the school with Cummings Elementary as part of a $5 million cost-saving plan, the group has been on the defensive. Brisco and other supporters appeared at board meetings leading up to the vote, pleading with board members to save their school. Their argument: Stafford was a school in good standing, with a proven track record of strong parental support and community involvement. Cummings, they said, was not.
In fact, Stafford received School of the Year honors from the Memphis Education Association just last week. Still, not enough kids are attending Stafford -- the school's utilization rate is only 46 percent.
No More Teachers' Dirty Looks? The Stafford support group has hired a lawyer, an alumnus of the elementary school, to plead their case. Although he is not commenting about the case, Brisco is.
In a detailed statement, Brisco outlined the merits of the potential lawsuit, based on No Child Left Behind statutes. According to her, the school board's decision to merge Stafford violated the act by not giving district parents an opportunity to move children from a low-performing school to one that meets educational guidelines.
"Our teachers had planned to really do some things to get kids into the school," Brisco says. "With the school mergers announced before the open-enrollment period, it didn't give teachers the time to do that or give parents the option of choosing Stafford for their children."
MCS attorney Percy Harvey has said that Brisco and her group have no legal recourse. "I'm not worried that [the school board's] decision to merge schools will be overturned. Superintendent Johnson worked very hard to guarantee that all No Child Left Behind standards were met before even presenting the merger proposal," he says.
During MCS's city-budget hearing last week, committee chair TaJuan Stout Mitchell brought up the Stafford merger. She had received a petition from Brisco's group asking the council to intercede on their behalf. "I understand the need for the mergers and supported them, but it breaks my heart when [the school] has struggled to make strides and then for them to have to adjust to a change," Mitchell said. •