Keeping the faith with Cleveland High

It was fitting and appropriate that the Washington state Supreme Court recently declined to review lower-court decisions rejecting an attempt by several Cleveland High School alumni to take over the Cleveland Memorial Forest.

The alumni feared the forest’s owner, Seattle Public Schools, might one day sell the 131-acre swath of second-growth forest on the Sammamish Plateau. Despite the district’s denials, the Cleveland loyalists sought the ultimate assurance: suing to have the land placed in a trust on behalf of students.

Their intention, to preserve the forest as a natural classroom for students and honor Cleveland graduates who died in World War II, was well-meaning but misguided. The original intent of the students, who in 1944 raised $300 to buy and donate the land to Seattle schools, will remain honored by the district.

District administrators and School Board members say there is no plan to change the forest’s use as a learning center and a memorial to the 29 Cleveland alumni who died for their country during the Second World War. Even as the district grapples with budget shortfalls, cashing in the land has never been an option.

Instead, school officials appear to understand the tremendous value the forest holds as an educational tool. Students make annual treks to the forest for ecology studies. High-school students receive hands-on lessons about forest management and other environmental issues by maintaining the trails and buildings.

The School Board is talking about putting a levy before voters in 2004 to pay for building repairs, fencing, and parking improvements. Cleveland High plans to update its plaque honoring their war dead to include alumni who have died in conflicts since World War II.

These plans don’t add up to the district seeking to profit from a gift. They add up to a district spending impressive resources to maintain this natural preserve. The current publicity should ensure the district doesn’t even begin to think about selling the forest lands.

Cleveland’s alumni and the school district are actually on the same side. They both want children to benefit educationally from the memorial forest. Too bad precious dollars had to be spent finding this out.

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