Washington, D.C. officials announced a proposal to redraw elementary school boundary lines for District of Columbia Public Schools on April 5. If enacted, this marks the first DCPS redistricting since 1968.
Claudia Lujan, a media representative from the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education, stressed the necessity of redistricting in order to adjust to D.C.’s demographics and data, which have shifted over the past four decades. The realignment would consider both current and projected city populations as well as closures and openings of new schools.
“We have a very complicated, very confusing system. And so the initial emphasis of this was to essentially do what we should have done many years ago and to address the challenges that the current system faces because we haven’t done this in so long,” Lujan said.
The proposed boundaries aim to accommodate both overcrowded and underused schools as well as address travel and safety issues for students and families. Additionally, the new proposal introduced three new “policy examples,” as they are referred to by Deputy Mayor of Education Abigail Smith’s office, which would significantly change the way that students in D.C. are assigned public schools.
The first policy example proposed the idea of a lottery-based elementary school enrollment system. Under this proposal, rather than allowing families to choose to attend a specific neighborhood school, students would be given the choice to enroll in one of the three or four elementary schools within the “choice sets” near their homes, where admission would be determined by lottery. For middle school, students would then be presented with two options of nearby schools from which to choose. High school admissions would be determined by a citywide lottery, giving preference to students who live nearby or have a sibling already enrolled in the school.
Lujan stressed that this policy example is not proposing a citywide lottery for elementary school students.
“We have not in any way proposed citywide lottery for the elementary school level, but it is on the table for high school level,” she said.
The second policy is most similar to D.C.’s current education system of boundaries and assigned schools within those boundaries, but with the added proposal that 10 to 12 percent of seats be reserved for students living outside of that school district whose assigned school is performing under par. Under this policy, elementary school students would be eligible to attend one public elementary school in their district, which would then feed into one middle school and one high school. If students gain a spot via lottery into an elementary school outside neighborhood school boundaries, they would also be eligible to continue to feed into middle and high school with their classmates.
The third policy serves as a compromise between the first two policies. Under this proposal, 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds would be eligible to attend neighborhood preschools. Elementary school students would attend the one elementary school in their district based on the new boundaries and middle school students would enter a lottery for admissions to one of two or three middle schools near their home. High school students would participate in a citywide lottery that did not prioritize residence.
D.C. Reads Coordinator Allison Link (SFS ’14) criticized the first policy example, as it would signify the end to neighborhood schools.
“I currently work as a teacher’s assistant at Anne Beers Elementary School, and several of the kids I work with are second- or even third-generation Beers students. This policy would almost completely sever this meaningful tie between families, their communities, and their schools that remains prevalent in DCPS,” Link said to Greater Greater Education.
Mayor Vincent Gray, recently defeated in the Democratic primary for re-election by Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser, is scheduled to release a final policy in September, which would take effect immediately in fall 2015.
Lujan emphasized that the proposals are still in a preliminary phase and that feedback from the community is welcome.
“We have not come out with one proposal that we want people to weigh in on; we’ve come out with a lot of different options that people should weigh in on at the elementary, early childhood and secondary school level,” she said.
Nico Lake (SFS ’16), a coordinator for D.C. Reads, addressed the effects that redistricting could have on the students as well as the school’s resources.
“The new system has some major changes for some of the schools we work with in Ward 7, like Thomas, Smothers and Drew,” Lake said. “All three schools will see their boundaries expanding, meaning a rise in enrollment and students from new neighborhoods attending the schools. It’s important to ensure the students are able to get to the school safely and in a timely manner, as well as confirming that the schools have the resources to house the influx of students.”
Although he praised the officials’ receptiveness to community feedback, Lake expressed concern over the process’ lack of transparency.
“Not enough information on the process has been given out and I worry that many have not had the opportunity to share their voice on this important issue because of not receiving information on the subject,” Lake said. Adam Barton (COL ’16), a coordinator for D.C. Schools Project, echoed this sentiment.
“It seems like DCPS is making an honest effort to listen to the community, which is great. The worry, however, is that the redistricting process is always going to leave some community behind. It will change the feeder patterns to the benefit of some neighborhoods while throwing others into underperforming schools for the sake of diversifying,” Barton said.
Barton further elaborated on how the changes could affect the D.C. Schools tutoring system. Partnership with some public schools may have to be reconsidered in order to achieve the community impact they are trying to sustain, he said.
“At our on-site afterschool programs at schools like Marie Reed in Adams Morgan, we will potentially have a very low student continuity between the 2014 and 2015 school years. Our tutors may not be able to continue working with the students they already serve, and we as an organization may have to change our plans and partnerships entirely if feeder patterns land in such a way that the population of English language learners in our schools shifts greatly,” he said.
Despite the disadvantages, however, Barton praised the redistricting proposal for giving certain students opportunities they may not have received otherwise.
“The biggest advantage to redistricting, of course, is that it means that certain students may get the chance to attend a higher-performing school if it is zoned into their neighborhood,” he said.