Shawnee Mission School District officials on Monday unveiled a series of proposed adjustments to the attendance boundaries of 11 elementary schools.
The changes would go into effect at the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year.
The officials stressed that the adjustments, aimed at alleviating overcrowding in several schools while accommodating future growth in the district, are still preliminary pending a pair of community meetings in April and May to get public input.
Deputy Superintendent Kenny Southwick said the district has considered boundary changes since 2014 and put them off because of the concerns of parents. But Southwick said the district has run out of time.
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“It is something that we have to do if we’re going to balance our schools around not only the number of students but the needs of the students in those buildings,” said Deputy Superintendent Kenny Southwick. “It’s OK to dread these boundary changes, but it’s not OK to avoid them.”
Based on current enrollment, five schools would see an estimated net gain in students while six would see a net loss.
A number of the changes would provide students for the new Lenexa Hill Elementary School, which is expected to open in the fall of 2018 at 87th Street Parkway and Haven Street. It would take students who live in the southwest corner of the Broken Arrow Elementary boundaries, the west side of Sunflower Elementary and the western edge of Christa McAuliffe Elementary.
Sunflower would gain students living in the southern edge of Rising Star Elementary area and the western side of Rosehill Elementary. Rising Star would also lose students along its northeast boundary to Shawanoe Elementary, which would in turn lose students along its western boundary to Mill Creek Elementary.
Mill Creek would also receive students along its northern boundary with Rhein Benninghoven Elementary. Benninghoven would also lose students along it western boundary with Christa McAuliffe.
East Antioch Elementary would send students south of 75th Street to Overland Park Elementary.
In most cases, the changes would not affect current middle and high school patterns. The exceptions are the students who would move from East Antioch to Overland Park, who would advance to Westridge Middle School.
Some parents attending the meeting already had criticism of the plans.
Jim Wehner, of Prairie Village, questioned why Briarwood Elementary, which moved into its new building, was not part of the conversation even though it is expected to hold more than 600 students next fall. He noted that nearby Tomahawk Elementary has fewer than 300 students.
“Briarwood has been an issue for years and no one has done anything about it,” said Wehner, who has children at Briarwood. “We have an opportunity now to add it here, rip the Band-aid off at the same time as everyone else.”
Kristin Barnes, who lives in Forest Park Estates in Shawnee, said she was concerned that the changes to the East Antioch boundary would require students crossing Interstate 435 and Renner Boulevard with no curbs or sidewalks to get to school.
“I would like to understand why that is considered safe passage,” Barnes said.
The district has scheduled community meetings at 6 p.m. on April 11 at Shawnee Mission Northwest High School and at 6 p.m. on May 3 at Shawnee Mission West High School.
In other business, the board responded to concerns regarding the ability of law enforcement, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, to take students into custody on school grounds.
The issue is tied to reports that law enforcement officers earlier this year took into custody a third-grader at Briarwood Elementary after his parents had been detained by ICE. School officials said they are legally prevented from commenting on the cases of individual students but denied that ICE agents were allowed on campus or that the student was pulled out of a classroom.
School districts in Kansas City and Kansas City, Kan., have both passed resolutions specifically disallowing ICE agents from taking students into custody while in class without a warrant.
During Monday’s meeting, John Douglass, the district’s director of safety and security, said the district has specific policies limiting when students can be taken out of class by law enforcement – in particular if a student poses a direct threat to students or staff or is wanted on an arrest warrant or whose parents or guardians aren’t available to care for them.
“The question came up, ‘are we going to specifically have a policy to deal with ICE agents?’ And the truth is we have a policy to deal with all agents,” Douglass said.
Several residents at the meeting were not assuaged, however, and told the board it should create stronger policies to shield students from law enforcement.
Sarah Carmody, a family law attorney from Mission, criticized the district for not being truthful regarding the incident with the student and said a social worker or other guardian should have been called to deal with the situation instead of allowing law enforcement to take the child away.
“Schools need to be a safe place for students,” Carmody said. “The police have no place here unless they are removing a child who is creating a disturbance for another child.”
The board also voted to schedule May 19 as the final day of the current school year. With the beginning of spring, district officials said they likely won’t need to use four emergency days built into the schedule, usually to accommodate disruptions from snow. The last day for teaching staff will also be May 19.
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