Citywide plan is best

Published 10:12 pm Wednesday, March 7, 2018

At Thursday’s School Board meeting, the board is expected to vote on a rezoning plan for the city’s public schools.

At the elementary and middle school levels, two options are on the table. One merely creates a student population for the two new schools in North Suffolk and alleviates overcrowding at nearby schools. The other rezones the schools at that level throughout the entire city.

In a parent survey, more than two-thirds wanted the school division to approve the North Suffolk plans and leave the rest of the city untouched. But that wouldn’t solve the other issues.

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One of the most important issues in this rezoning is to ensure the school district is racially integrated as required by the U.S. Department of Justice.

In May 1970 — nearly 48 years ago — the United States sued the Suffolk School Board due to its lack of desegregation in terms of student assignment, faculty and staff assignment, transportation and other aspects of its operations.

At the beginning of last school year, Booker T. Washington Elementary School was nearly 94 percent black students, while Pioneer Elementary School had barely more than 29 percent black students with nearly 63 percent white students.

While it’s true that other schools in the district are more diverse, a school district that includes schools with those numbers can hardly call itself integrated. The Department of Justice agreed last year when it ordered Suffolk Public Schools to submit a student assignment plan that furthers desegregation for the Justice Department’s approval prior to the beginning of next school year. It’s unlikely that any plan that does not further desegregation will be approved by the federal government, and the school district will be sent scrambling back to the drawing board.

Many parents have legitimate concerns about the citywide plan. Their children will be going to a school that is farther away from home. Their children will be going — in the case of Pioneer to Booker T. Washington — from a newer school building to an older one that has reportedly had issues with mold in the past.

Moreover, many parents have expressed deep concern that in some cases, their children will be moving from a fully accredited school to a school that is not fully accredited.

However, those parents should remember that it is not the school building that takes the standardized tests on which accreditation is based. Students take standardized tests. A shifting student population on a large scale can be expected to have a significant impact on school-wide performance on these tests.

As School Board member Dr. Judith Brooks-Buck said in a Monday night meeting on the rezoning, involved parents can make the difference. A child who is successful at one school is likely to be successful at any school he or she attends.

The rezoning plan is not perfect, and some changes may be needed in the future to keep up with the rapidly changing demographics of our city. But it is a bold move toward complying with the desegregation order given more than 40 years ago that has never been fully implemented.

The School Board should approve the citywide rezoning plan Thursday night.