Seattle Courant

School Board Ready to Vote on New Student Assignment Plan

Seattle School Board. Jan. 30, 2009. Photo by Keith Vance.
By Ryan Burr
May 19, 2009 03:05PM

Jacque Coe said at an April 22 meeting that proximity, specifically concerning high schools, is crucial to foster “a sense of community and a safe walk zone.” She acknowledged, however, that permitting every student to attend the high school nearest his or her home will be difficult since “this is a large, diverse school system.”

Speaking about other benefits of keeping students close to home, Eric Blumhagen of Ballard, said it puts fewer cars on the road and transportation costs down if more students can walk to school, and, students have more time for sports or other activities if their commutes are shorter.

Blumhagen is part of a Ballard group that has collected more than 700 signatures insisting that students attend the high school nearest their home.

In general, school board members have said they are aiming for a simplified, more predictable model for school assignment than what is currently in place. All the while, board President Michael DeBell says the district also wants to decrease transportation costs, maintain a diverse student body at all schools, and ensure all programs are student-accessible.

The proposal offers school “choice” from K to 12 based on space availability, with high school students being afforded the most “open” selections.

Totally “open” choice in school assignment, though, has serious downsides. Thus far, DeBell said, it has been very expensive to allow and has left some schools overpopulated and others underpopulated.

It’s also tricky to achieve racial balance in the high schools, both with such an open-choice plan and without one. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled two years ago that school districts, including Seattle, were too heavily relying on race in their school assignment process.

District officials considered race as a “tiebreaker” when assigning students so that neighborhood schools wouldn’t be as segregated. The policy meant some white students couldn’t get into the very popular Ballard and Hale high schools in north Seattle.

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More information on the new student-assignment place is available here.