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D.C. school redistricting sparks concern as city tries for fairness



D.C. is again planning to redraw school boundaries. And as in adjustments past, the process that overhauls attendance zones has also drawn ire from families in the city’s most in-demand feeder system: the Jackson-Reed High School cluster.

The process is still in its early stages — the advisory committee running it will deliver a report to D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) sometime this winter, and its suggested changes will not take effect until the 2025-2026 school year at the earliest. But families who settled near, or lotteried into, popular schools worry their children will be redistricted.

The city, meanwhile, has its own priorities: to foster diversity, reduce overcrowding in some schools, fill seats at others and provide equitable access to high-quality public schools.

Several attendees at a virtual town hall about the redistricting process Wednesday shared concerns about the Jackson-Reed cluster. One of the middle schools that feeds it, Alice Deal, was at least 95 percent full during the 2021-2022 school year, according to the city’s most recent master facilities plan. While officials have yet to offer up any plans, families fret that an elementary school may be removed from the boundary to free up space at Deal — a suggestion that came up after the last boundary study in 2014 — which some say already feels too crowded.

Nearly 400 Mount Pleasant families have already asked city education officials to keep their hands off the feeder system that sends students from Bancroft Elementary School to Deal. Many moved to the Northwest Washington neighborhood specifically so their kids could attend that middle school and then Jackson-Reed High School — coveted, in part, because it sends more than 90 percent of its graduates to college.

They also argue, however, that cutting Bancroft off that feeder would hurt diversity at Jackson-Reed: Roughly 70 percent of Bancroft students are children of color. But the school has also become Whiter, wealthier and more English-dominant in recent years, bringing into question how much racial and economic diversity the campus will continue to add to Deal in the future.


“Many low-income and immigrant families have guaranteed access to the city’s best middle and high school because they live in Mount Pleasant or send their kids to Bancroft,” families wrote in the letter, which was sent in June. “Changing the Bancroft feeder pattern would reduce educational opportunities for those who need them most and discourage families from putting down roots here.”

Officials say they want families across the District to enroll their children in their local schools. Almost three-quarters of students in D.C. do not attend their neighborhood public school — though in-boundary enrollment is higher in wealthier areas — opting instead to apply through the common lottery to attend a traditional public school in another part of town, a citywide school or charter school, according to the D.C. Policy Center. Outside of the Jackson-Reed High School cluster in Northwest Washington, most children leave their attendance zone as they age.

This debate is not relevant to the vast majority of families in the District: Only 10 percent of the city’s high school students attend Jackson-Reed. Many families in other parts of the District are either cut off from the most sought-after schools or lack the resources to move within their boundaries.

“We remain deeply, deeply committed to improving every single one of our schools,” Paul Kihn, D.C.’s deputy mayor for education, said during the town hall. About 160 people were in attendance. “This is truly a conversation about making sure we’ve got great public schools across our city, that each one is great.”

The last time the city redrew school boundaries, it laid out zones that sent kids from Crestwood and 16th Street Heights to MacFarland Middle and Roosevelt High schools — and removed children east of the Anacostia River from the Eastern High School cluster. Before that, a comprehensive overhaul of the city’s school boundaries hadn’t been attempted in more than 40 years. Now, the city reassesses its school boundaries once per decade.

Families across the city have shared their priorities in multiple town halls, from making sure students have safe commutes to addressing racial segregation. Some parents called for more equitable access to dual-language programs — which are concentrated west of the Anacostia River — and career training. Others decried overcrowding such as the crisis families say Deal faces.

In a changing Mount Pleasant, Bancroft Elementary loses federal grant


While the majority of in-boundary traditional public school students attend Deal, data show a portion — about 11 percent — opt instead for Columbia Heights Education Campus and DC International, a language-focused charter school. Both schools are predominantly Latino.

Julie Straus Harris, a Mount Pleasant attorney, is “anxious” about the boundary study. Her son, a third-grader, attends a Jewish day school, where he will remain through middle school and return to the public school system for high school at Jackson-Reed. Her daughter, now in kindergarten at Bancroft, will likely follow the same path, she said.

“It’s what we bought into this community for, or one of the reasons. If Bancroft moved, I don’t know,” said Straus Harris. “I would guess people would leave for the suburbs more than leaving for upper Northwest.”

Meanwhile, some families at Shepherd Elementary — Bowser’s neighborhood school — made a similar argument Wednesday night. The school, in the northern tip of Northwest Washington, also feeds into Deal and has the highest share of children of color compared to other elementary schools in its attendance zone.

But, like Bancroft, it is losing that population. A decade ago, during the 2012-2013 school year, 79 percent of children were Black, 5 percent were White and one-third received free and reduced-cost meals. Last school year, 51 percent of students enrolled were Black, and the share of White students had grown to 28 percent. Just 7 percent of students had been identified as at-risk, a broad category that includes children who are homeless, in the foster care system or reside in low-income households.

Still, families see the makeup of the student body as an asset. “Shepherd also has a community that’s really diverse, in terms of racial background and ethnic background, and [it] brings a lot of that diversity into the Deal community,” said Stephanie Bertaina, who has a fifth-grader at Shepherd and a daughter in seventh-grade at Deal. She also mentioned the elementary school’s international baccalaureate (IB) program, an academic pathway that leads to an internationally recognized diploma, which is also offered at Deal.

“Deal then benefits from having elementary students who have that IB background,” she said.


The boundary study has also invigorated the enduring debate over who in D.C. deserves access to what. Officials at the Wednesday night town hall fielded questions through a chat box. “How can DCPS communicate to families privileged enough to buy homes in the district [sic] that they are not entitled to no change in school feeder patterns?” asked a person identified as Rachel Odell, adding that lawmakers in neighboring Montgomery County, Md., supported a bill requiring homeowners to sign an acknowledgment that their school boundaries might change.

Despite families’ concerns, city leaders have not yet offered any concrete proposals or boundary changes. The deputy mayor for education’s office will hold another round of town halls in November, followed by meetings with individual school communities.

Source: Washington Post

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