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D.C. School Boundary Changes Draw Opposition, But Not From Entire City

D.C. residents and officials are currently debating three proposals for changes to the city's four-decade-old school boundaries and feeder patterns.
D.C. residents and officials are currently debating three proposals for changes to the city's four-decade-old school boundaries and feeder patterns.

A majority of D.C. residents who participated in a series of community meetings in early April expressed opposition to many of the proposed changes to school boundaries and feeder patterns, according to data released by city officials.

Eighty-five percent of those who participated in the meetings said that residents should be assured access to a neighborhood elementary school based on their address, as is currently the policy. And 75 percent said they opposed a proposal for "choice sets," a group of three or four elementary schools that residents in specific areas would have access to through a lottery.

The data comes from three meetings that took place earlier this month after D.C. Deputy Mayor for Education Abigail Smith unveiled three proposals for changes to the four-decade-old boundaries and feeder patterns that determine where students go to school. City officials say that population changes and more school choices have made the current boundaries and feeder patterns largely unworkable.

The proposed changes have drawn skeptical reactions from two mayoral contenders — Council members Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) and David Catania (I-At Large) — and raised concerns among many parents. According to the data from the first meetings, parents who participated largely seemed to oppose any changes that would do away with by-right access to neighborhood schools.

Despite the opposition to the proposals, city officials and members of the advisory committee that helped draw up the proposals caution that participation rates have not been fully representative of the entire city.

"To date, input not representative of the city as a whole," says a presentation from Smith office. "Should be cautious about drawing citywide conclusions from these data."

According to the data from the meetings, 175 of the 305 worksheets submitted by participants came from residents in wards 3 and 4, while only 23 came from residents of wards 7 and 8.

A similar pattern was evident from those who explored the proposed changes through OurDCSchools, an online app that allows parents to enter their address to see how their boundaries and feeder patterns could change.

According to data from the app's creators, only four percent of queries came from wards 7 and 8, while Ward 3 had 22 percent and wards 1 and 6 had 20 percent each.

"Although upper Northwest in Ward 3 and those areas have been the loudest voices... their realities are just very different than other areas of the city. I don't feel like there are enough diverse voices at the table so that everyone can understand the landscape of what's going on in the city," says Faith Hubbard, president of the Ward 5 Council on Education and a member of the committee.

The data on participation and opposition to any changes tracks with areas of town with strong neighborhood schools. In Ward 3, 2,875 of 3,616 students attended an in-boundary school in the 2012-13 school year. In Ward 8, by comparison, 4,357 of the 18,877 students attended an in-boundary school, while 6,022 went out-of-boundary and 8,498 opted for charter schools. Hubbard's ward has some of the city's highest rates of charter school attendance.

Still, Hubbard says that residents from those wards also want quality schools near their homes. But the way the discussions over proposed boundary changes have happened have made it hard for them to have their voices heard.

"It's really hard, because there are a lot of communities in the city that may feel jaded by certain processes that have taken place in the past regarding DCPS and education and so it may be hard to really reach those people because they may not feel the process is genuine," she says. "Different communities have different norms. There may be a community where they don't have the luxury to come to a meeting late at night, or they need childcare, or the weekend's not really good for them."

Hubbard says that Smith and her staff are aware of the shortcomings in who has weighed in on the proposals, and have pledged to do more outreach.

Speaking on The Kojo Nnamdi Show earlier this month, Smith said that the three proposals would change based on resident input. Final proposals are due in the fall, with changes set to take effect in 2015.

Working Group Round 2 Presentation FINAL 4-25-14


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