public hearing before the state board on Feb. 26, speaker after
speaker drew enthusiastic applause by testifying that things are
just fine the way they are and that there is no reason to fix
something which is not broken. Several made the point that
public opinion -- expressed in a variety of forums, including a
plebiscite last autumn -- clearly endorses maintaining the
speaker asked for a show of hands by those who agree that the
Brandywine plan should be accepted, virtually all of the nearly
200 attenders responded.
State board president Joseph Pica
noted that the hearing was, by far, the best attended in the
series of sessions being conducted prior to a special meeting in
Dover on Mar. 11 at which the board is expected to pass on
assignment plans submitted by Brandywine and the three other
northern New Castle County districts created in the aftermath of
federal court's 1978 racial desegregation order. Pica and the
other members of the board, all of whom were present, received
testimony at the hearing without comment.
the speakers were folks who are or have been active in various
capacities in the district, but there also was a sprinkling of
those who said they wanted to swell the chorus supporting the
local school board and district administration which maintain
that assigning pupils to the schools nearest their homes would
create so-called high-poverty schools, which would result in
undue hardship for the district and its students.
contains an escape clause which allows student assignments to
other than the nearest school if that would cause "substantial
attorney general's opinion, however, held that the clause does
not apply to the section of the law which requires districts to
reconfigure elementary schools to kindergarten-through-fifth, or
-sixth, -grade configurations, although an additional
alternative plan with another configuration may be submitted.
Brandywine's submission reversed that order. Its favored plan
would maintain the present kindergarten-through-third-grade and
fourth-through-sixth-grade configurations. An alternative plan
based on assigning students mainly on the basis of postal zip
codes -- which Brandywine pointedly asked the state board to
reject -- does provide for reconfiguration.
Brandywine school board member Robert Blew endorsed the present
school configuration and assignment arrangement. Parent Gail
Davis said she responded to a notice of the hearing sent home
with her second-grader child because she thought "it important
that parents show up and say they don't want things to change."
A delegation of students from Concord
High School, led by senior Kate Bradley, said they have
benefited from racial, economic and social diversity. Bradley
said that, although she will soon graduate, she did not want her
young sister to attend schools "segregated by race and wealth."
Although the law specifically
prohibits using race as a factor in determining school
assignments and the plan Brandywine has submitted defines its
projected hardship solely in economic terms, race was a
predominant element in several of the presentations at the
"It would be a hardship for our
district if we have to resegregate our children," said Diane
Brocklesby. Beverly Baxter said that the Neighborhood Schools
Act "is really the Wilmington Resegregation [Act]," adding that
people "have a moral obligation to challenge unjust laws."
Andrea Doyle, a teacher at Mount
Pleasant High School, predicted there would be "years of
litigation" testing the constitutionality of the Neighborhood
Schools Act if it results in appearance of racial segregation.
Brocklesby, who is both a parent and
a veteran school bus driver, said that long bus rides are not an
issue in Brandywine. "It only takes 20 minutes to go from one
end of the district to the other, without going over the speed
limit," she said.
The only speaker who came close to
expressing support for a literal application of the law was
Roger Hoyt, who claimed that "elimination of busing will result
in thousands of students walking to school" and save a
considerable amount of money now spent on transporting them. His
remarks also drew applause. Data the district had previously
presented indicates there will likely be only a minimal change
in transportation requirements. It maintains that most students,
except for those who live in Wilmington, already attend the
schools nearest their homes.
Several speakers at the hearing
called for repeal of the Neighborhood Schools Act, although
that, of course, is not within the purview of the state board.
"I have not heard a single good thing that can come out of that
law," Bert Green said.
Baxter drew a laugh when she
suggested that claims that results of the Brandywine plebiscite
did not accurately reflect the views of residents of the
district because not everyone voted were spurious. "In any
election, a lot of people do not vote. Does that mean he was not
duly elected?" she said. That remark evidently was directed at
state Representative Wayne Smith, primary sponsor of the
Neighborhood Schools Act, who represents a Brandywine Hundred
district in the legislature.
"I feel very strongly that you need
to listen to the people and [do] what's best for our children,"
said Lani Thureau.
She added that, if
the state board does not go along with the district's desires
regarding student assignments, it will be forced to spend money
-- including revenue raised by an increase in the tax rate
ceiling being sought in a referendum this spring -- not for
educational improvements but "to implement a plan the people do