Alameda families with special needs children are distraught over a proposal to eliminate sixth through eighth grades at Bay Farm School.

The Alameda Unified School District board is scheduled to consider the proposal Feb. 14. A virtual town hall meeting with district Superintendent Pasquale Scuderi is set for Wednesday, Feb. 1, at 5:30 p.m. on Zoom.

Families with special needs children seek out the school because of its smaller size and smaller class sizes compared with other middle schools in the city, an advocate for the school said by email.

“Neurodiverse students are thriving in this smaller school where every student is known by the teachers,” said Robyn Wu, a parent of a fourth grade student at Bay Farm School and a member of the school’s Parent Teacher Student Association.

One student is fearful of going to Lincoln Middle School, which has a capacity of 900 students. Bay Farm’s capacity in grades 6-8 is 192. Alameda has four middle schools — Lincoln Middle School, Bay Farm School, Wood Middle School and Encinal Jr. Sr. High School.

School district officials argue that financial efficiency is the reason to eliminate the three grades at Bay Farm, according to answers to frequently asked questions published on the district’s website.

District officials report that middle school enrollment is declining and has been declining for some time at Bay Farm School, so money would be spent more wisely in other ways in the district.

That may mean class sizes at or near capacity at other schools.

A chart tracks the decline in student enrollment at Bay Farm School over the seven most recent academic calendar years between the time students arrive as sixth graders to when they should graduate from eighth grade. (Image via Alameda Unified School District)

A 2009 review of 57 scientific studies published in the journal Review of Educational Research on the effect of school size on student success indicates students do better at smaller schools.

“Students who traditionally struggle at school and students from disadvantaged social and economic backgrounds are the major benefactors of smaller schools,” the review said.

Reacting to the declining enrollment argument, Wu said that district officials have not communicated to the community that any Alameda child can attend Bay Farm School.

But that fact has been published for multiple years on the school district’s website, according to the district.

Advocates for Bay Farm’s middle school argue that many did not know a proposal had been made to eliminate the three grades.

“We owe the community an apology for the absence of sufficient communication on the proposal to phase out the Bay Farm Middle School program beginning in August of 2023,” Scuderi wrote to families on Jan. 12.

“While we have long contemplated this issue internally, our external communications have been lacking and for that I will take responsibility,” Scuderi said.

So many Bay Farm community members reacted to the proposal and attended the school board meeting a week ago that the capacity on the Zoom platform reached a maximum and people were forced to watch the live-stream instead.

Wednesday’s 5:30 p.m. town hall meeting with the superintendent can be accessed online. The meeting ID is 830 5622 6857 and the passcode is 837576.

Scuderi was not immediately available for comment Tuesday. School board president Heather Little did not respond to a message left for her at the board’s office.