racially identifiable schools have been cited since before its
enactment as one expected result of the law, specific racial
composition projections in the Brandywine district were
disclosed and discussed in public for the first time on Oct. 23
as more than 200 residents turned out and used a public hearing
on the pending plans to voice strong objections to the
controversial law and call for its modification or repeal. No
one spoke in support of the law and several of those who opposed
it drew applause with their remarks.
attender -- those who spoke were not asked to identify
themselves and most did not -- called for a show of hands
indicating those in the audience who were related to children
attending Brandywine schools. Most hands were raised. She then
asked who favored the neighborhood school concept as expressed
in the law. No hands went up.
reference to racial diversity, Concord High School student
Jessica Blum said, "It took a generation to get where we are
now. You don't want to take us back." Classmate Kate Bradley,
who identified by name several school friends of different
racial, ethnic and religion backgrounds whom she said she would
not have met were the school's population not diverse and said
she wanted her one-year-old sister to have the same experience,
wore a teeshirt with the slogan '2-4-6-8 We don't want to
said that 175 Concord seniors voted 96% in favor of keeping the
status quo with regard to district attendance zones and school
position was advocated by a newly formed group which greeted
people arriving at the hearing with a display of posters. Lynn
Kielhorn, a parent who acted as spokesperson for what she
described as an ad hoc grassroots organization, said its purpose
is to use a second question on the ballot when the public votes
on the plans on Oct. 30 as "a way to send a message to our
legislators" about dissatisfaction with the law.
the group has arranged media coverage and will otherwise
campaign to get a large number of voters out to the polls. The
Brandywine board has said it will accept the results and forward
the favored plan to the state Board of Education if the
preference among the plans is clear and if 10,000 or more people
said it is questionable whether a 16-page tabloid newspaper-size
flyer published and distributed by the district will be
effective in enabling voters to fully understand the plans. "All
the information is there. Those who read it will understand, but
I wonder how many will take the time to read and study it," she
said. All residents age 18 and older are eligible to vote
whether or not they are property owners or registered to vote in
conventional plans call for attendance zones based either on
postal zip codes or the geometric midpoints of the areas between
pairs of schools. The third plan is to establish an academically
intense 'magnet' school on a city campus combining P.S. and
Harlan with a high school component at Mount Pleasant High. The
latter would have a more diverse student population if district
assumptions that half the children who live in the city and
about 50 from each suburban school zone elect to go there.
Assistant superintendent Donald Fantine told the hearing,
however, that estimate is "simply a guess on our part."
clear from the posters and comments by participants in the
demonstration that the group's focus is on the second question
on the ballot -- whether the voter prefers the plan he or she
selects or would like to see the present student assignment
scheme and grade configuration kept. Board members and district
officials have acknowledged that the board has no power to keep
things as they are so long as the law mandating change is on the
books. There is a disclaimer on the ballot to that effect. There
is no provision for plebiscites in Delaware law or constitution.
board president Nancy Doorey told the hearing, "it is important
that we know how the community feels" while planning for
whatever the future holds. "If 80% favor neighborhood
schools, we have to know that," she said.
Representative Wayne Smith, who was primary sponsor of the law
and the driving force behind its enactment and who attended the
hearing but did not speak, said afterwards that he considers it
obvious that the board and district are "doing everything they
can to try to steer results of the referendum to a negative
assessment regarding neighborhood schools." He added that he
still believes that "80% of the community wants neighborhood
said the district's flyer was, in parts, "incomplete and
misleading." He objected specifically to a page in it quoting
outside 'experts' on the ill effects of 'high poverty' schools.
Smith said his own interviews with current officials of Norfolk,
Va., public schools, the first system in the country to move
from court-ordered busing to achieve racial integration to
neighborhood schools, directly contradicted claims by a former
Norfolk school official, now associate superintendent of the
Montgomery County, Md., district, that education went down hill
from there. Smith said three such schools in Norfolk, two of
which draw students only from public housing projects, achieved
state accreditation well ahead of schedule and that the district
as a whole has shown greater academic improvement than any other
district in the state.
other Brandywine Hundred legislators were present, but they did
not participate in the hearing either.
elected official who did participate was Theodore Blunt,
president of Wilmington City Council. He carried a poster and
stood in the greeting line, explaining that he was doing so as
the grandparent of three Brandywine district students. "We need
to focus more on educating kids. That should be our biggest
effort," he said.
also told the hearing that, had the plan been implemented in
September, 2000, half of the district's 10,820 students then
enrolled would have been displaced. The district is using
enrollment data from that date -- the latest that official
figures were available when work on the plans began -- to
determine attendance zones in relation to school capacities with
the proviso that there will likely have to be some adjustments
when the plan that is adopted goes into effect on or after
September, 2003.Fantine said, however, that those adjustments
will not be major.
said the district is moving ahead with plans to renovate the
Harlan as the first project in its approved building renovation
and modernization program.
implications of realigning attendance zones came through
strongly at the hearing." The [state] law cannot be contrary to
the law of the land," said one attendee, a black man who
identified himself as a lawyer and suburban resident.
reference was the number of nominally Brandywine students who
attend charter and private schools. "You don't see those people
worrying about how they get [their children] there," a woman
remarked, indicating she felt building conditions and the
quality of education are more significant than busing.
student who said he chose to attend a Brandywine district school
although he lives in the Red Clay school district, said he felt
district schools are "a lot better" than what he had experienced
previously in Maine and elsewhere.
Asked if the district has the
resources to provide for the needs of high concentrations of
economically poor students in some schools, Fantine replied that
it "has to work with finite resources [and] if you spend it in
one place you have to take it from another place." The attender
who raised the point said he regards it as apparent that the
district "will either have to cut back on education or raise