In spring of 1995, the Sarasota County School Board, citing budget cuts, unanimously voted to shut down New Directions High School and Ideal Alternative High School. Both schools were alternative high schools, aimed at helping students who were at high risk of dropping out. The decision was met with protest, including a strong push from New College students who felt the programs were crucial for often-neglected students.
“What’s going on?” reads the title of a leaflet written by unnamed New College students attempting to raise awareness of the closings. “The Sarasota County School Board has voted to close Ideal and New Directions High Schools, two learn-at-your-own-pace alternative schools for students who might otherwise drop out. We are here to express our strong support for [the schools] … We call on the Sarasota County School Board to commit to the continued operation of Ideal and New Directions Alternative High Schools … Please raise your voices, and help save Ideal and New Directions.”
In a thick pamphlet of documents gathered by alum Geoffrey Kurtz (‘96) are the collective efforts of New College students to save the high schools. “[New College] students were active in the struggle against the closings,” Kurtz writes. “We collected petition signatures, helped organize and joined in two demonstrations with high school students, and other tasks.
The packet is filled with leaflets for the protest and notes from meetings, demonstrations and question and answer sessions held by New College student, all written on the backs of flyers, handouts, school assignments and receipts.
Scrawled on the back of an excerpt of someone’s essay are brainstorming notes from one of the many sessions. The writer jotted down suggestions and information from attendees at the meeting. “Danielle: afraid of lots of actions watering things down – think small,” reads one of the notes. “Jessica: go to small business – inform everyone – walk the streets. Andres: likes Jessica’s idea.”
On another sheet of an essay describing native Floridian bugs are notes regarding a planned protest that students were attempting to organize. “Ideal: across street from school. Hey! Meetings Sunday 5pm and Saturday 6pm. Most people, when the cops showed up, wouldn’t just sit there. If we decided to be calm/peaceful…” read some of the notes.
The last page of notes ends with information about talking to reporters for television and newspaper. Underlined at the bottom of the page is “Press conference – yay! Talk about it!”
“In the end, we helped the students win a compromise from the school board:” Kurtz writes. “the two schools would cease to exist as distinct campuses, but would continue as distinct programs on the campuses of existing high schools.
“These are papers relating to that campaign, consisting mainly of notes taken at meetings attended by both New College students and students from the two high schools,” Kurtz finishes.
Today one alternative program exists for in Sarasota County Public Schools: the YMCA Triad Alternative program, with campuses in Sarasota and Venice. The programs combined handle a total of 119 students. New Direction and Ideal High School are both shut down, their programs dismantled and reshaped. Although the protest did not save the schools, the district has not abandoned its students.