About 375 Palo Alto residents -- including more than 100 children in local public schools -- would be displaced by the closure of Buena Vista Mobile Home Park on El Camino Real in Barron Park, the Board of Education was told Tuesday.
Buena Vista residents and their supporters packed the school board chamber to plead for help in their quest to stay put -- or at least to keep their kids in Palo Alto schools.
The park's owner has notified residents of the planned closure, with a prospective deal to replace the 108 mobile homes with 180 apartment units.
All five school board members indicated they would back a "statement of support" for Buena Vista students and their families to "partner" with them, the community and the City of Palo Alto "as we seek favorable educational outcomes for the children ..."
Wholesale loss of the Buena Vista families, whose children make up 12 percent of the enrollment at Barron Park Elementary School, is different than just losing a few families who can no longer afford to live here, members said.
"This is a major potential dislocation with impacts not only on students leaving but on students staying," board member Melissa Baten Caswell said.
School board member Camille Townsend, a lawyer, said she so far has come up short in a search for legal ways to keep children in the district who do not live within its borders.
"Obviously we have the Tinsley program (admitting some children from the Ravenswood City School District), but that was a court-ordered agreement of desegregation many years ago," Townsend said.
"This wouldn't fit into that category.
"I've tried to find other legal avenues. The current policy is that children can stay until the end of the semester after their parents leave, but that doesn't solve it either," Townsend said.
"There's no neat category into which this unique and difficult situation falls -- no easy solution yet, but that doesn't mean we're not going to work on this and it's going to take some time."
Townsend told the Buena Vista residents her own parents had only eighth-grade educations and "it's because of public schools that I can stand here today.
"I understand why you brought your children here and I respect that and I'll work with you to help you get the best educational experience for your kids," she said.
School board member Heidi Emberling welcomed the Buena Vista families in Spanish, adding that as a Barron Park resident she values the diversity Buena Vista brings to the neighborhood.
"I want to do everything we can within the jurisdiction of our district to support these families to stay in our schools," she said.
Nine-year Buena Vista resident Roberto Munoz told the board he does not want to move.
"I have my daughter in Terman Middle School," Munoz said. "I don't want my daughter to lose the teachers, to lose the schools because there are very good schools around here.
"I don't make enough money just to rent another place. Everything's way too expensive in this area. This is the reason we want to stay in the mobile home park because it's the place I can pay the rent."
Terman Middle School seventh grader Alvaro Hernandez said he would be sad to leave.
"I don't want to leave my school and lose my friends," Alvaro said.
"I have very good memories and I have teachers that have helped me improve my grades.
"My family and I moved here from East Palo Alto a couple of years ago because Palo Alto is safer. When we lived in East Palo Alto some robbers came into our house with guns and it was very scary, and that's why I don't want to move to another city."
Alvaro said he dreams of studying hard at Gunn High School and attending Stanford University.
"It will be very sad for me and my sisters to lose our homes, schools and friends," he said.
Supporters of the Buena Vista residents Tuesday included Palo Alto PTA Council President Sigrid Pinsky, Barron Park School parent Sue Eldredge, Barron Park School staff member Meb Steiner and Stanford Professor Amado Padilla, who served on the Palo Alto school board from 1993 to 1997.
Padilla, a resident of Stanford, said he had visited Buena Vista and become acquainted with some residents there since reading news accounts of the pending closure.
"Many of the children living in Buena Vista were born at the Stanford Hospital or at surrounding hospitals. Thus, Palo Alto is for many the only community they know," Padilla said.
"The teens I have spoken with identify as part of the Palo Alto community and have their friends here. Many of the Buena Vista adults work in Palo Alto or in immediately surrounding communities where they are employed in the service industry, in construction, and as nannies or health care workers.
"Thus, the adults living in Buena Vista are important for the contributions they make to ensure that Palo Alto is the great place that we all love," Padilla said.
Citing the PTA's mission of promoting child and youth welfare, Pinsky said her group supports efforts to keep Buena Vista children in Palo Alto schools by helping them find suitable housing within district boundaries.
"This potential mass displacement of nearly 400 residents would have severe consequences, and would eliminate a sizable portion of Palo Alto's economic and ethnic diversity and break down support systems of students and families," Pinsky said.
Eldredge, who co-chairs the PTA Council's Buena Vista Advocacy Committee, said the effort on behalf of the mobile home park residents has been backed by the congregations of 10 Palo Alto churches and synagogues, the Palo Alto Human Relations Commission, the Peninsula Peace and Justice Center and the Community Working Group, which built the Opportunity Center.