The Shawnee Mission School Board on Thursday approved boundary changes that avoid criticism of racial disparity by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The school district had proposed two plans — A and B — for reconfiguring the school attendance boundaries. Plan B became the target of complaints that it would promote racial segregation in the predominantly white district.
The board voted 5 to 2 Thursday afternoon in favor of Plan A.
“During discussion, it was determined that Plan A did the best to address the district's goals,” district officials said in a statement after the vote. In changing the boundaries the district sought to reduce overcrowding, reduce under-capacity, create enrollment in the new Lenexa Hills elementary, and address enrollment areas where there has been abundance of new home construction including multifamily housing.
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Earlier on Thursday, just hours before the board was scheduled to change boundaries for some district elementary schools, the ACLU of Kansas sent members a letter outlining concerns that at least one plan would more heavily increase the minority population at Rising Star Elementary School in Lenexa.
According to the letter sent by ACLU of Kansas Chief Counsel and Legal Director Doug Bonney, Plan B would increase minority students at the Title 1 school from 54 percent to 63 percent. In his letter Bonney wrote that “if the board votes to implement Plan B, it raises a question of whether the board intended to pour more black and minority students into Rising Star.”
Minority populations at other affected schools would change by 3 percent.
Board member Patty Mach was one of the two who voted against Plan A.
“No one is perfect, “ Mach said. “But I think Plan B is still the better plan. I know that no matter what happens the students will be taken care of. Students are resilient and they will adapt.”
After hearing how the board voted, Bonney said, “Plan A is far less impactful on the racial makeup of the schools in the district than Plan B. Clearly they picked the plan that is less concerning to me, which is good.”
He said, “Plan A does not make me raise my eyebrows like Plan B did.”
Bonney had urged the board to table the current proposals so that they could be discussed and tweaked further. He called the one plan alarming and potentially unconstitutional.
Once the first plan was approved by the board, then Plan B never came up for a board vote.
Bonney said he was not sure whether his letter had any impact since it was sent to them only a few hours before their vote. The boundary change letter was the second one the ACLU of Kansas has sent to the Shawnee Mission School District this week. On Monday, Bonney sent a letter to the district with concerns that a new policy prohibiting speakers at public board meetings from using the names of district employees and students is unconstitutional.
With the boundary vote complete Bonney said he will take another look at the chosen plan to be sure it doesn’t raise concern.
“Boundary changes are not an easy thing, but hopefully a 7-member board can make the right decision,” said Cindy Neighbor who voted in favor of the approved plan.
Board members have spent months talking about boundary changes they say are needed because of overcrowding at some schools, under-capacity issues at others and the need to enroll students at a new elementary school, Lenexa Hills. After questions and pushback about how the original plan would affect student demographics, a new plan had emerged after the May 22 board meeting.