The Cheltenham Township school board unanimously gave the green light to split up Cedarbrook Middle School early in 2014, saying the district cannot afford to wait to address mold issues.
Parents spoke for more than an hour at Tuesday night's board meeting, asking the board to take more time to review a plan that would separate Cedarbrook's 750 students among four different sites, beginning as early as Jan. 27.
Half the students would go to Gratz College, and the remainder would be split among the high school and two elementary schools.
Parents have known since the summer that the school's closure was imminent. But when the board voted Tuesday night, the Gratz plan had been public for little more than 24 hours.
"Why the rush? I know we can't wait till March to make a decision. But why were we told this last night and not even given a chance to help you brainstorm?" asked Tracy Mason, who has a son in seventh grade and a daughter in fifth.
Solicitor Kenneth Roos said the district could not reveal the plan earlier because of lease negotiations.
Board members said they wanted continued input from parents, but could not wait to act on Cedarbrook.
"Our duty as a board and administration is to make sure those phenomenal teachers, students, and parents have a place they can go on Monday," said Napoleon Nelson. "It might not be this Monday, but we have to make sure it's ready when they need to use it."
"It's a scary thing - we're taking a leap here," said new board member Bill England. "But we have to act in the best interests of our children."
The previously preferred plan - leasing the DeVry University building in Plymouth Meeting, which could have housed all Cedarbrook students - fell through in November when that building was sold, said district spokeswoman Susan O'Grady.
Superintendent Natalie Thomas said the district had explored every site proposed, inside and outside the township, and found Gratz was the largest viable option.
The plan seemed all but a done deal Monday night, when district officials announced it to parents and community members.
Parents grilled Thomas on logistics, but she said the nuts and bolts would not be decided until teachers had a chance to weigh in. Cedarbrook teachers and staff had been notified of the plan only a few hours earlier.
The district has yet to work out details such as which students would go to which schools; how nurses, counselors, and other support staff would be distributed; transportation; security; transition procedures; and extracurricular activities.
The few details that are known also sparked criticism. For example, the district plans to have all students report to Gratz in the morning. Shuttles would then take 375 students to the other three sites. The same would occur in the afternoon, with all students converging at Gratz before being dismissed.
Parents worried that would add more time to the school day and create a traffic headache.
There were also concerns about how splitting up would affect the socialization of seventh and eighth graders.
"Thirteen, 14, is a tough age, and you're going to rip them apart from their friends?" said Maureen Lannuti. "I don't need more drama in my life."
A new middle school will take at least four years to build, Thomas said.