Camas school officials dispel Hayes Freedom High closure rumors

School board president says district has no plan to close, move small high school

Rumors of Hayes Freedom High’s closure are just that — rumors — the Camas School Board said this week.

“I want to acknowledge some of the anxiety and trauma that has surrounded this community over the last few days,” Camas School Board President Corey McEnry said during the start of the Board’s meeting on Monday, Feb. 27. “We hear you on that and we are fully committed … to Hayes Freedom. It is not moving, not consolidating.”

Other school board members agreed.

“There has been information circulating in the community about Hayes closing or moving,” Hennessey said Monday, adding that she suspected the rumors regarding the small high school’s demise were the reason why the Board’s meeting — held virtually due to adverse winter weather — had attracted 208 participants.

“We put out a public statement that we are not closing Hayes Freedom, not moving Hayes Freedom,” Hennessey said. “It is not something we are planning on doing.”

Camas School District Superintendent John Anzalone sent a letter to the district’s families on Feb. 22, that spoke to “posts and comments on social media implying that Hayes Freedom High School will be closed due to impending budget cuts.”

“This information is false,” Anzalone stated in the letter to families. “We mentioned in our communication on (Feb. 1) that our leadership team is examining ways to reduce our budget by a target of $6 million, representing 5% of our budget. One of many options under consideration is looking for ways to share staffing among our smaller, choice high schools: Camas Connect Academy, Discovery High School and Hayes Freedom High School.”

“I want our community to know that we will not eliminate any of our high schools during this arduous budget process, and Hayes Freedom High School will not be relocated,” Anzalone stated in the letter.

During the Monday evening school board meeting, Malone and other Board members agreed that the Board does have “a tough job ahead” due to shrinking revenues and a four-year budget plan that calls for $6 million in cuts.

“Budget cuts are hard, and we have a tough job ahead of us with the budget that we have,” Malone said. “There are tough decisions coming, and we don’t want to have to make any of them, but we knew this was coming.”

At least 16 community members wrote letters to the school board regarding the Hayes Freedom rumors and several students and parents addressed the issue during the Board’s public comment period.

Kindyl Moore, who described themself as “a nonbinary, autistic freshman at Hayes Freedom High School,” spoke first.

“My middle school journey was hell,” Moore told the school board. “I was at Odyssey Middle School for most of my middle school years, and I faced challenges in all areas, including with students, teachers, staff and curriculum.”

Moore said they chose Hayes Freedom for their high school experience after feeling overwhelmed during a tour of Camas High School, which they described as “a huge school and very crowded.”

“I could not (have) asked for a better high school. It’s a safe place where I can both learn and express myself,” Moore said. “The building at Hayes is small and cozy, every inch is utilized and valued, and we as students are not packed together. It feels safe and comfortable.”

Moore and other speakers urged the Camas School Board to protect the 142-student high school located in a “one-hallway” building nestled between Helen Baller Elementary School and Liberty Middle School, and to safeguard the high school’s principal, Amy Holmes, and its small group of educators.

“Hayes is Hayes because of the staff that work there, the building it is located in, and the community that embraces the school,” Barbara Friberg Braskett, who identified as the parent of a current Camas High School student and a Camas High graduate, stated in a letter sent to the Board Monday. “Moving Hayes, even with a passing thought, has stirred up so much angst in the community: staff, students, families and, most importantly, taxpayers.”

Friberg Braskett also urged the board to fix overcrowding issues at Camas High School.

“CHS is overcrowded. It has been for a number of years,” Friberg Braskett stated. “I’ve heard from the CHS coaching staff, as a parent, that ‘we can’t divide CHS because of the sports program.’ Sports should not be a driving force of any public school.”

Other speakers kept the focus on Hayes Freedom’s benefits for students who may not fit into a larger school like Camas High, a projects based learning environment like Discovery High or the district’s relatively new, online Camas Connect Academy.

“A bigger campus would be too overwhelming for some of our students,” said Kimberly Berry, a Camas coach as well as the mother of a Hayes Freedom student and a recent Hayes Freedom graduate. “Story after story shows Hayes allows students to prosper.”

Mari Kieft, a parent of two Camas students, including a sophomore at Hayes Freedom, told the school board that the small high school named after Camas native and well-known environmental advocate Denis Hayes helped her student feel valued and supported and turned his idea of school from “a chore to a positive challenge.”

“I’ve always felt a big part of Camas School District’s mission is the (social-emotional learning) portion of education — giving kids the tools to have a good sense of self worth and positive mental health,” Kieft stated in a letter to the school board. “Hayes enables our teenagers to find their personal value and have a sense of well being, and many kids that would have become a dropout statistic have a place that pushes them to succeed. This is even more important with the additional stressors on our kids due to the pandemic.”

Like so many of those who defended the school, Kieft said Hayes Freedom’s staff made a huge difference in students’ lives.

“Hayes Freedom, with Principal Holmes at the helm, is a thoughtful, compassionate, well-guided (school). I have full conscience with her administration, her staff and with all the teachers. … Hayes works. Hayes is successful. Hayes is loved by our community.”

Camas School District Superintendent John Anzalone said he was dismayed to hear that preliminary 2023-24 budget discussions had caused anxiety for the Hayes Freedom community or other Camas School District families.

“We heard so eloquently from so many current and former Hayes (students). On a personal note, it really did sadden me that our conversations may have caused any hurt,” Anzalone said Monday. “I know (this) struck a chord. I want you to know that our board hears you, and we never want to hurt feelings.”

“We are hearing loud and clear that our high school options … are invaluable to our students,” Anzalone added. “We also are hearing that small class sizes are a priority. Anytime you’re looking at budget reductions, class sizes are a (factor). There will be some trade-offs in this, but we are keeping those class sizes in mind.”

The superintendent said he expects to announce the first round of staffing cuts in mid-March and has pinpointed the end of March as the target date to notify all staff impacted by the planned budget cuts. The district has until May 15 to notify its impacted certificated staff, which includes teachers, and until June 1, to notify its classified staff.

“Our exploration and planning, which are still in development, will include reductions at the central office, building administration, classified staff, and certificated staff,” Anzalone told CSD families on Feb. 22. “In order to minimize impacts on students, we will first focus reductions on district office personnel and building administration.”

Editor’s note: This article was updated Monday, March 6, 2023, to reflect the most recent student headcount at Hayes Freedom High School, which was 142 students as of Oct. 1, 2022.