The St. Paul School Board voted Wednesday night to let current juniors at Arlington High School attend the building next year, but not sophomores.
The vote caps a week in which the board voted to close Arlington and five other schools as a way to balance a $27 million budget gap.
"This is one of the hardest decisions we probably, hopefully, as a board will have to make," said Superintendent Valeria Silva, during Wednesday's meeting. "But the bottom line is we're going to create the best we can create so they can graduate with the best education."
Current Arlington students had argued they should be allowed to stay next year because the building will still be used when a different program moves in. They made emotional pleas to the board during a 10-hour meeting Tuesday night.
Proponents of the "juniors-only" option noted the school next year will include pared back options for those students, including fewer electives and after-school activities. That's why board member Jean O'Connell said she wasn't in favor of including current sophomores.
"We would do a disservice to the current sophomores to have two of their four high school years in a limited curriculum-based setting," O'Connell said.
The plan was approved 4-2, with John Brodrick and Keith Hardy voting 'no' - the board's seventh member, Anne Carroll, had left the meeting to attend another district function.
Brodrick said current sophomores should be been included.
"But if we're talking about No Child Left Behind, I think those kids not only think they're being left behind - but they're not wanted and being discarded," Brodrick said.
The vote also requires at least 150 current juniors to enroll to take effect, to ensure the program's viability. That might prove hard to accomplish, if feelings expressed during Tuesday's meeting are any indication.
Junior LaDawn Morris was one of the students in attendance and said she's not sure she'll attend Arlington next year even though she now will be able to with the board's action.
"We're still lacking the people who deserve this as well - the juniors deserve this as well as the seniors," Morris said. "They've contributed as much to Arlington High School as much as upcoming seniors have, so why do they have to get dropped?"
Even with all the cuts made this week, Wednesday night's board meeting ended with the revelation that the district was still about $500,000 short of balance its budget, but members said those cuts could be discussed later. A new budget doesn't have to be in place until June.