COVID-19 forcing tough choices on Mass. communities as parents fight possible closure of beloved Natick school

It opened a few years after the end of World War II. Since then, many thousands of grade-school students have passed through Johnson Elementary School in Natick.

NATICK, Mass. — It opened a few years after the end of World War II. Since then, many thousands of grade-school students have passed through Johnson Elementary School in Natick.

“I grew up in Natick and I have four sisters. And we all attended Johnson school,” said Kate Farley. Today, two granddaughters are Johnson students. “It’s a wonderful group of people here. It’s a community.”

But the COVID-19 pandemic has forced that community to contemplate the unthinkable: that their beloved, neighborhood school could close.

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"My kids would be devastated at a time when they've already been through so much this year with school closing, not able to see their friends, online school," said parent Kate Eckstein. "It has been a very rough few months."

(Boston 25 News)

The problem is, it has been a rough few months for the town of Natick. In good times, Natick can count on tax revenues from hotel rooms, restaurants and colossal shopping developments such as the Natick Mall.

These are obviously, not the best of times. And the school committee is thus facing a multi-million dollar deficit. Closing Johnson Elementary is one idea on the table, though, as of two weeks ago, Superintendent Anna Nolin said no decisions had been made on how to close the budget gap.

Nonetheless, some parents and students at Johnson Elementary have launched a preemptive campaign to keep the South Main Street school open. The grassy hill leading up to the aging brick building is covered in signs made by students: Save Our School, Johnson is My Happy and Safe Place, Johnson is The Heart of The Neighborhood.

Once A Jaguar, Always A Jaguar, another one reads, in reference to the school's mascot.

(Boston 25 News)

"It's heartbreaking to think that this school might not be here in the fall," said Kristy Leeds, parent of kindergartner Josie. "It's a beautiful special place."

Her daughter added: “I won’t get to see my friends anymore. I hope the school doesn’t close.”

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