Berkeley School Board votes to desegregate colleges with new enrollment policy

The Berkeley School Board voted Wednesday night to overhaul its policy for assigning students to the city’s three colleges, deciding unanimously to add a third enrollment area for the 2023-2024 school year. The intention is to desegregate the schools.

Current policy, unchanged since 1994, divides Berkeley into two zones for King and Willard, leaving Longfellow as the “preferred” school.

A map of the current boundaries that dictate whether students can attend Willard or King’s College. Students living anywhere in Berkeley can opt for Longfellow. Credit: BUSD

As Longfellow’s enrollment declined under this policy, the school served a growing share of higher-needs students and a disproportionate share of black and Latino students, leading to what some have denounced as a de facto segregation system.

“It’s a broken, separate system that doesn’t reflect our values,” school board superintendent Ty Alper said just before the vote. “It needs to be fixed. And we have the ability to fix it.

The new policy adds a third area in the middle of the city for Longfellow, bringing together students from the Hills, South Berkeley and Central Berkeley. The maps use Berkeley’s geography as an indicator of other types of diversity, including race and class.

However, the council has yet to finalize the map delineating the three zones and a transportation plan. (Students at Sylvia Mendez Elementary could attend Longfellow to continue in the bilingual immersion program.)

A draft map of the new college enrollment policy creating three neighborhood zones was shared at the school board meeting on Wednesday. Credit: BUSD

The decision was made for years. At stake, some said, was Berkeley’s progressive heritage of integration, gained in 1968 when Berkeley became the first major school district to voluntarily desegregate.

Former Superintendent Donald Evans originally raised the issue of college enrollment with the school board in April 2019 with the intention of creating three schools “that reflect the racial, ethnic, economic, educational and linguistic background of our city.” , according to the board meeting documents. . A decision was expected in the fall of 2019, according to board documents.

A vote has been postponed three years in a row. Meanwhile, Longfellow got a new principal, and a consultant released a report recommending that the district change its college enrollment policy to break a “reputation spiral” that continues to “push Longfellow down.” This spring, directors Ty Alper and Laura Babitt took up the issue with urgency. “We need to make sure we don’t have another year baked into educational imbalance and segregation,” Babitt said at a March 23 board meeting.

A graph showing how the rate of low-income, English-language learners, homeless, or foster youth — a common measure used by the state — varies by Berkeley college. A similar chart was presented at Wednesday’s board meeting.

Any mention of the change has been controversial, sparking heated discussions at town hall and heated emails from Berkeleyside readers. But on the night of the vote, not a single parent commented on college enrollment policy. (A handful of people who followed the council’s discussion on Twitter said the three-zone plan would make it harder for their children to get to school and one person tweeted about the possibility of families leaving the district at light of decision.)

Nor did the meeting discuss the merits of desegregation, which school board directors seemed to agree on. The conversation was instead dominated by the logistics behind the change. Was the admissions office using current census data to create the three area maps? How would students be received in their new schools? And, above all, how would the students get there?

School board principals Ana Vasudeo and Julie Sinai highlighted transportation concerns, initially leaning to push back a final decision until November to work out details of a transit plan. “I would like to see that analysis before approving a final model,” Vasudeo said, adding that putting more cars on the roads is dangerous and noting that transportation issues contribute to chronic absenteeism.

“I’ve heard very serious and passionate concerns about transportation issues…largely coming from the hills,” Sinai said. But “the way the current area works, we have students from all over Southwest Berkeley, who have a major trek to get to King now. Whichever scenario we choose, there will be a trek for some community to get to school.

Council Chairman Ka’Dijah Brown and Alper said transportation could be discussed later. “I just want to urge my colleagues not to let transportation get in the way of our decision,” Brown said. “The reality is that we don’t provide transportation to our colleges” now, she said, and families are finding a way to make it work.

The school board ultimately decided that transit issues did not need to be resolved before making a final decision.

The selection of the three-zone model and a vote to make the final decision, with the caveat that staff would present an implementation plan to the board in the fall, passed unanimously. The new three-zone policy will come into effect in the fall of 2023.

Featured photo of Longfellow Middle School sixth graders on August 16, 2021: Kelly Sullivan

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