October 18, 2001

The Red Clay school board voted unanimously to submit its choice-based Neighborhood Schools Act plan to the state Board of Education with the apparent expectation that it will require General Assembly support to implement. The earliest it could go into effect is September, 2003.

Except for some last minute tweaking of the wording in the resolution by which the action was taken at its meeting on Oct. 17, the plan is essentially what the district administration presented in early September. The only significant difference is that the final version provides that students who do not follow the procedure for choosing the school they want to attend will be assigned, after those of do choose are placed, to the school closest to their home which has room for them.

Rationale for the Red Clay approach is that allowing everyone in the district to choose their schools means that those who want to go to the closest school will be able to do so while those for whom the closest school is not the one they favor -- whether as a matter of convenience or for some other reason -- also will be accommodated.

But district officials maintain that ability to grant their first choice of school to everyone will require that at least one and possibly two new schools be built. Voters earlier this year turned down a bid to float bonds to finance the local cost of an extensive capital program which included new schools in Stanton and near Hockessin.

The resolution voted by the board on Oct. 17 notes that "an additional elementary school must be built to accommodate students who reside in the northwest quadrant of the district where there are no neighborhood schools." That presumably refers just to the Hockessin area.

Another proviso calls for "state-funded transportation" for 'choice' students. The state's public school choice law presently requires that students not attending the school to which they are assigned using traditional attendance zones must provide their own transportation. Red Clay pays for some, but not all, such transportation with local funds.

Board president William Manning said a choice program is "meaningless" without a transportation component because, as a practical matter, poorer students are unable to take advantage of it.

A parent who spoke at the meeting said that the existing choice-law arrangement in the district has produced a strange situation. She said she lives on a suburban street where her child and two others are the only elementary-school students. The parents got together and submitted choice applications so the children could go to school together only to receive their first, second and third choices, respectively. As a result, three school buses now stop at the street to pick up one child apiece and take them to separate schools, she said.

She said that, as a result of  poor communications in the district, none of the parents were aware that because nearby Mote Elementary had added a third grade all three families had the option of receiving preference in choosing to attend that school because they live in the 'historic feeder pattern' for its intermediate grades.

There was no debate nor substantive discussion of the resolution during the public meeting. A school administrator had distributed a few copies of the final revised version of the resolution just before the open session. An earlier version had been available as attenders entered the Brandywine Springs Elementary School auditorium, where the meeting was held. Following its normal practice, the board held a closed-door executive session before the public session. It is not known whether the resolution was discussed and revised there.

In any event, board vice president Irwin Becnel noted that the location of schools and distribution of population is such that Red Clay "cannot meet the exact requirements of the Neighborhood Schools Act [because] we don't have the classrooms."

Manning said he finds it ironic that people are objecting to the district's choice arrangement on the grounds that it will foster racial resegregation. Inability to attend schools where they wanted their children to go was the underlying motive for black parents to file the suits which led to both the desegregation of Delaware public schools and the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, he noted.

"What surprises me is criticism which now said giving people a choice is a bad thing," he said.

In other action, the Red Clay board granted the district an option from the state mandated limit of 22 students in kindergarten through third grade classes. The board was told that 79 classes, or about 30% of those in the district, do not meet that limit.

2001. All rights reserved.

Get more information about this topic

Read the text of the Neighborhood Schools Act resolution enacted by the Red Clay school board
Read previous story: Board will submit choice plan





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