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Catania, Schwartz Express Opposition To School Boundary Change Proposal

Two D.C. mayoral candidates have expressed concern with possible changes to the city's four-decade-old school boundaries and feeder patterns, saying that the process should be put on hold.

In a statement, D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At Large), who chairs the Council's education committee, said that boundaries should not be redrawn until all neighborhood schools improve.

"Shuffling students between schools and redrawing lines on maps without addressing the primary issue of school quality will only undermine parental confidence and may well result in families leaving DCPS," he said.

The revised proposal was unveiled last week by the D.C. Advisory Committee on Student Assignment, which has been discussing the changes since last year. Not only would elementary, middle and high school boundaries change, but the proposal would align feeder patterns to give parents a more predictable path through the school system.

The committee also did away with controversial choice sets, set aside seats for at-risk students at high-performing schools, encouraged collaboration with the charter school sector and proposed that up to four new middle schools be opened.

But at public meetings on the proposal this week, some parents expressed concern with the redrawn high school boundaries, primarily those feeding Wilson and Eastern high schools. Under the plan, Eastern's border would move west of the Anacostia River for the first time and extend across the city, while Wilson's boundary would shift north.

Speaking today on WAMU 88.5's The Politics Hour, mayoral candidate Carol Schwartz similarly expressed concerns with the proposals, focusing on the changes to high school boundaries.

"By redrawing the boundaries... we're going to have pretty much segregated high schools," she said. "I am certainly not in favor of some of the portions of the proposal. This dramatic change... I don't think it's needed."

According to an analysis prepared for D.C. Deputy Mayor of Education Abigail Smith, who is leading the effort, 79 percent of high school students would be assigned to a new high school that is less diverse than the one they currently attend.

The committee is expected to publish final proposals for boundary and feeder pattern changes in September, and the changes would start going into effect during the 2015-16 school year. But both Schwartz and Catania say that any changes to boundaries and proposals should be put on hold.

"I think we have a new mayor come in... I think they should be able to weigh in on this," said Schwartz.

"The District has waited more than 40 years to engage in this highly complex exercise and any decisions will have far-reaching implications for families and communities across the District," said Catania. "As such, it is in the best interest of current and future students that we take the time to get the final plan right rather than hastily move forward in order to meet an artificial deadline."

Smith and Mayor Vincent Gray have defended the process and the proposals, saying that changing boundaries while continuing to improve individual schools are process that can occur in parallel and at the same time.

Speaking earlier this week to WAMU 88.5, mayoral candidate Muriel Bowser said she was still studying the revised proposals.

Catania's education committee is holding a public hearing on the proposals on June 26.

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