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Originally published Friday, October 4, 2013 at 9:33 PM

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Seattle district, Mann school occupiers resolve conflict

Community groups occupying the Horace Mann school building have agreed to leave, and the Seattle school district will rent space to them elsewhere during renovations and allow them to return next fall.

Seattle Times education reporter

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Community groups occupying the Horace Mann school building will be out within the next few days with a promise that the Seattle school district will rent space to them elsewhere during renovations and allow them to return next fall when the building reopens, according to the district.

District officials and members of the newly created Africatown Education and Innovation Center (AEIC) will gather at the Central Area school Saturday afternoon for a hastily organized “education summit” celebrating the resolution of a standoff that might have ended instead with an ugly eviction.

“Both sides were just willing to put all the pain and hurt aside,” said Julia Ismael, speaking for AEIC, which represents about 18 of the groups operating at Horace Mann this summer. “We have this shared passion of caring for our children.”

Bernardo Ruiz, Seattle Public Schools’ equity and race director, credited Superintendent José Banda for working with the groups rather than taking a hard line.

“When people were pushing for other solutions, he understood that we needed to work with the community as partners to have a win-win situation for our children,” Ruiz said.

The district closed Horace Mann four years ago because of reduced enrollment, and it relocated the Nova Alternative High School to the Meany Middle School building. With enrollment now swelling, the district plans to move Nova back to the renovated Horace Mann building next fall.

But the plans hit a snag in August when several organizations operating in the building stayed on, even after the rent-paying tenant on the lease and another organization subleasing the building had vacated. The groups offer a variety of programs for African-American youth in the Central Area and wanted Horace Mann to remain a community hub.

Both sides worked together for several weeks to find a solution to the impasse.

Under the agreement, the groups will pay rent for space in other buildings during the renovations and for use of a portable on the Horace Mann site until March 1.

“That was a bold move on the district’s part to really cement their public commitment to the ongoing partnership,” Ismael said.

Then next fall, AEIC will be able to use some reserved space at Horace Mann for its activities in partnership with Nova, though details of the arrangement are still being worked out, Ruiz said.

John Higgins: 206-464-3145 or jhiggins@seattletimes.com.On Twitter @jhigginsST

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