Board set to finalize magnet and selective admissions policy

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Tomorrow the Chicago Board of Education will more than likely approve the proposed magnet and selective school admissions policy, even as there are growing concerns that the district’s top schools will become less diverse and have less of a citywide population.

Tomorrow the Chicago Board of Education will more than likely approve
the proposed magnet and selective school admissions policy, even as
there are growing concerns that the district’s top schools will become
less diverse and have less of a citywide population.

District officials say they have taken into account the feedback
gathered from meetings with parents, politicians and community groups,
but they will move ahead with the proposed policy as is. Spokeswoman
Monique Bond says the promise to review the policy next year will give
the district flexibility should it have unintended or negative
results. 

But Cynthia Flowers, the president of the Black Star Project Community
PTA, says that this step does little to get quiet the fears of her
group that the new policy will shut out black students. The Black Star
Project plans to bring at least one busload of parents and activists to
the meeting.

The new policy factors the socio-economic status of a student’s family
in the admissions process, as opposed to the old policy which used race
and was struck down when a federal judge terminated the desegregation
consent decree.

However, it is other provisions of the new policy that have caused the
most consternation. The policy calls for all siblings to be guaranteed
seats in magnet schools and half of the remaining seats to be held for
neighborhood children. Under the old policy, 45 percent of siblings
were admitted and 30 percent of slots were reserved for children who
lived within 1.5 miles.

Early on, an analysis by Catalyst showed that many of the best magnet
schools were in white neighborhoods on the North Side
. Also, last year, a Catalyst analysis revealed that the numbers of black and Latino students in
the city’s best schools are dwindling
.

The Chicago Tribune followed Monday with an analysis showing that the
number of children from outside the neighborhood
in magnet would be
reduced on average by 14 percent.

In a press release issued Tuesday by Don Moore, executive director of
the advocacy group Designs for Change, points out that the decision to
increase spots for neighborhood children and siblings had nothing to do
with the striking down of the desegregation decree. In an internal
process, district officials made that call themselves.

“They are part of the Board of Education’s scheme to ‘keep the middle
class in the city,’ as Mayor Daley says-by further segregating the
school system,” he says.

Flowers adds that the fact the policy was presented and then district
officials asked for input, which they aren’t going to incorporate, is
part of a pattern of not including parents in conversations. “We don’t
trust them,” she says.

Also look for: A coalition of groups opposed to Renaissance 2010 will
bus supporters to demand the board open a new high school in Carver
Military Academy’s building by the start of winter semester. This might
seem like an impossible request, considering there’s only about a month
left of the next semester, but activists believe that is the district
wanted to they could do it, says Julie Woestehoff, executive director
of Parents United for Responsible Education.

“It’s a response to parents feeling like the Board of Education has
failed them, and has failed their children… has refused to respond to
parents’ basic concerns about the school’s safety and academic
environment,” she says “They’ve turned schools around a lot faster, and
with less community input.”

The school would be named Hazel Johnson School of Environmental
Justice, after the environmental justice activist and People for
Community Recovery founder who successfully drew attention to the high
rates of environmental diseases suffered by residents of the Altgeld
Gardens public housing development.  Members of the Grass Roots
Education Movement (GEM) have collected about 2,000 signatures so far,
says Cheryl Johnson, the executive director of People for Community
Recovery.

It is not clear what the group’s next step will be if the school board does not offer a positive response.