no precedent nor justification for a governmental agency to, in
effect, ask the public whether it "is going to comply with the
law," the state legislator told Delaforum on Sept. 12 after the
first of five public hearings being held on behalf of the
committee charged with drafting at least two possible
student-assignment plans for the Brandywine district.
greatly disturbed. ... That is simply not an option," Smith
discussed at a workshop-style meeting on Sept. 10 the
possibility of asking the public to express a preference between
or among plans -- there are four now on the table -- at a
referendum-style election before it decides in November which
course to ask the state Board of Education to approve. That
submission is required on or before Nov. 15.
question would ask voters' opinion of the controversial law
which requires the drafting of a plan.
indicated by the tenor of remarks during and after the
hearing, asking that does not go beyond an academic exercise.
Superintendent Bruce Harter told attenders at the hearing that
"the law is the law and what we want to work out is a way to
president Nancy Doorey said that no decisions have
been made on whether the results of the voting on the plans would be binding
or advisory, or even whether to go forward with the idea. She
said those matters are likely to be addressed at the board's
next business meeting, on Sept. 20.
If it is
decided to proceed, the choice between binding and non-binding
will be made "well in advance" of the voting, which is
tentatively scheduled for Oct. 30, she said. Difficulties there
include such considerations as whether to accept the results "as
indicative of the feeling of the community" if few people
participate or what to do if the vote between options is close,
hearing she told Delaforum that she personally would expect a
large turnout if the plebiscite is held, but declined to be
specific about how many voters she feels would constitute a
have been conflicting reports on which way public sentiment in
Brandywine Hundred and the section of north Wilmington which is
part of the school district lies. Both Smith and Representative
Gregory Lavelle have reported that separate voter polls showed
strong if not overwhelming support for the law. The school
district, on the other hand, has said that there is considerable
backing among parents and others directly involved for
maintaining the status quo -- having suburban students receive
the second half of their elementary education in Wilmington and
city students attending schools in the suburbs for the other
parts of their 12-year education. That is now essentially
forbidden by the law.
declined after the hearing to respond to Smith's denunciation of
the plebiscite. Smith similarly sidestepped a request to express
his feelings on the appropriateness of the board's seeking at
least a formal measure of guidance on which plan is favored.
ruled out discussion of the law during the hearing, but half of
the dozen speakers managed to slip in a reference or two during
their remarks. All but one of those were unfavorable to it.
answer one question and to declare Harter's summary of the
provision of the law to be essentially accurate, Smith did not
participate in the hearing. Republican majority leader in the
state House of Representatives, he was the primary sponsor of
the law, which some are still referring to as House Bill 300 a
year and a half after it was enacted.
strongest veiled reference to the law -- intentional or
otherwise -- came from Harter who said that the board also
intends to "bring in a panel of experts to inform [it about]
what would be the impact of the [various] plans." One of the
points to be covered, he added, would be "the impact of
present arrangement was set up in compliance with a 1978 federal
court order to racially integrate Wilmington area public
schools. The order was lifted several years ago and the law
specifies that race not be a consideration in assigning students
to the schools closest to their homes. It is generally agreed
that several, and probably most, schools in the Brandywine, Red
Clay, Colonial and Christina districts will have 'racially
a no-win situation," Paul Hart, a former Brandywine board
member, testified at the hearing. Urging the present board to
re-establish P.S. du Pont Intermediate School as a high school,
he said, "If the city doesn't have a high school there is going
to be hell to pay and we're going to be back in court."
shame we have to go through all of this [instead of] paying
attention to education," said Bert Green.
plans now being considered include grouping school attendance
zones by postal zip codes in one of two possible alignments;
assigning students to schools closest or next-closest to
their homes by establishing P.S. as a
kindergarten-through-eighth grade school; combining P.S. and
Harlan Intermediate into a 'magnet' school with a fine- and
performing arts curriculum open to students from anywhere in the
distinct and assigning city students not wishing to go there to
the closest suburban school. In all cases, it is envisioned that
the state's public school choice law would be used on a
space-available basis to permit any student to choose where he
or she will attend.
the kids, except those [living] in the city of Wilmington are
really going to their closest school now," said assistant
superintendent Donald Fantine.
Jon Husband said his children have attended Brandywine school in
both the suburbs,. where the family lives, and in the city "and
we have not had one problem with any of the schools they have
Eitelman, a psychologist who works at P.S. and Harlan, said that
the issue is not so much racial as it is socio-economic.
Concentrating children from poor families in a given school will
hamper learning for all of them and produce a disproportionate
number of other concerns, she said. "Don't overload those
schools with kids."
put kids from high-poverty neighborhoods in schools in very
large numbers, their opportunity for success is very low," added
Antoine Allen, president of the Metropolitan Wilmington Urban
Wells requested that in the future the district should provide
resources to schools on the basis of the nature of their student
populations. "Do not do it by headcount but do it by the needs
of the children," he said.
said that it is the district's intent to continue all present
programs and apply them where they are needed.
The district will respond as
appropriate if the result of realignment is establishing schools
with high concentrations of students from lower socio-economic
levels, Doorey said. "By law we can't say we won't create them
[but] our responsibility is to provide quality education for
each and every child."