Why does it seem like Whitesburg is taking the brunt of the transfers?
Since 1970, Huntsville has been under a remedial order to remove vestiges of segregation. As part of this order, we must reduce segregation in our schools to the extent practicable. Over the past forty years, we have reduced segregation at Grissom High School, and other schools, through majority to minority transfers. As we move toward becoming a unitary school system, one which is no longer operating under a desegregation order, we must sustain or increase the level of desegregation achieved at Grissom and schools in its feeder pattern by drawing zone lines that, to the extent practicable, incorporate black students. As a practical matter, in the Grissom feeder pattern, such zone lines can only be drawn at Whitesburg School because of it’s unique location. With regard to black students, the Whitesburg zone is contiguous to the McDonnell zone and incorporation of McDonnell sustains the desegregation we have achieved since 1970.
Why are we only considering race? Why not consider poverty and ethnicity?
We are under a court order dating from 1970. This order requires us to remove past vestiges of discrimination against black students. This order is focused upon black students only. Socio-economic status and ethnicity are not addressed in our court order.
Why have we created a plan that puts an increased number of poverty students in a few schools?
Our desegregation orders were intended to remedy segregation of Black students from other students and all vestiges of the segregated system. It requires that we desegregate to the extent practicable due to prior discrimination against black students. Socio economic status, ethnicity, and other factors are not part of our order. Huntsville City Schools must create practicable zone lines that do not segregate black students.
Why has the public not been allowed to give input into the zoning plan like Madison does?
Unlike Madison City and Madison County, Huntsville is under a court order to remove vestiges of segregation. This order has been in place since 1970. It governs all key decisions undertaken in Huntsville City Schools with regard to student assignment (zone lines), staff and faculty assignment, facilities, transportation, and other factors. Measures to reduce vestiges of prior segregation are the only factors that have merit before the court. Two of these measures are majority-to-minority transfers and magnet schools. These measures were put in place by court order rather than by community adoption. Similarly, as part of the progress of gaining “unitary” status, as we close old schools and build new schools, we must draw zone lines that meet our constitutional requirement to reduce vestiges of prior segregation. Therefore, unlike “unitary” school systems that never had, or took measures to remove desegregation orders, only steps we take to remove vestiges of prior segregation are of interest to the court. Community preferences, while important to us, do not play a deciding role in the zone lines adopted. After all, community preferences in the years prior to 1970 led the court to impose an order to end discriminatory practices. Given these considerations, Huntsville has not had a comprehensive approach to facilities and student assignment (zone lines) since 1970. As a result, we have 1.3 million square feet of school space that we do not need in many older schools while we have overcrowding at a few newer schools.
Which court order are we working with?
Actually, there are a series of court orders. In 1970, we had the Singleton order which set the requirements including majority to minority transfers for immediate and full desegregation of staff and students. It is still in effect. Under subsequent orders we took remedial measures to remove past vestiges of segregation. These measures included establishing magnet schools and programs in 1984, 1986, 1987, and 1988. Various orders thereafter allowed us to build Challenger, Hampton Cove, Williams, Providence and Columbia. The most recent order entered last spring set requirements for the construction of seven new schools to include Grissom High School. Retirement of old schools and construction of new schools under this order now require us to set new zone lines. These zone lines must be drawn to remove vestiges of prior discrimination to the extent practicable.
How is racial balance measured?
Our court order established remedial measures that our system was directed to implement to remove vestiges of past discrimination. One of these measures allows students to request a transfer from a school in which their race is the majority to a school in which their race is in the minority. For the purpose of our order race is either black or other. With regard to black students, for the past forty years, most transfers have been from North Huntsville to Huntsville High School and Grissom High School feeder pattern schools. In the Grissom feeder pattern, a large number of these transfers have been to Whitesburg School followed by Mountain Gap, Chaffee, Weatherly, Challenger, Chafee and Farley. As a result of majority to minority transfers, black students comprise about 11 percent of Grissom enrollments. With our proposed zone lines, black students will represent about 12% of Grissom enrollments from within the Grissom attendance zone. Similarly, black students currently comprise about 33 percent of Whitesburg School enrollments. With our proposed zone lines, black students will represent 33 percent of students zoned to Whitesburg School. This balance within the Grissom and Whitesburg zones will sustain the desegregation we have achieved in the past forty years as we move toward becoming a unitary schools system. This is important since, once we are unitary, majority to minority transfers will no longer be constitutional. Absent majority to minority transfer or efforts to incorporate black students into the Grissom feeder zones, desegregation at Grissom, represented by enrollments of black students, would fall by about forty percent.
Why can we bus students from McDonnell to Monte Sano, which is not contiguous?
The court order focuses on black students. Our proposed zone lines are drawn to desegregate our school to the extent practicable with regard to black students. The area which we propose to zone to Monte Sano embodies a contiguous parcel that does not embody any black students.
How will McDonnell children be impacted if they can no longer walk to school and now have to ride the bus?
After talking to the McDonnell staff, I learned that they have been asking for buses for the neighborhood children for some time now. They have a number of small children who walk in the cold, the heat, and the rain. If it’s cold or wet, they may not get to school on time or not at all. They may also have to walk across busy roads or cross hazardous intersections. By providing buses for the ten minute ride to Whitesburg, we increase student safety and potentially decrease absenteeism.
What is the DOJ’s plan?
The DOJ plan would close McDonnell ES and zone all McDonnell ES students to Whitesburg P8 and Chaffee ES. It would also zone a share of Ridgecrest ES students to Grissom HS from Westlawn MS. The DOJ plan would zone all Weatherly ES students to Mt. Gap P8 for 6th, 7th, and 8th Grades. The DOJ plan would zone Chaffee ES students on the West side of the Parkway to Weatherly ES. Finally with regard to the Grissom zone, about 20 percent of Jones Valley ES students would remain in the Whitesburg P8 attendance area. With the DOJ plan, 33 percent of Whitesburg P8 would be black, as is the case with the HCS proposed plan.
What does the future hold for Whitesburg?
In July 2011, our school system began taking steps to raise student achievement while moving toward unitary status. We directed our superintendent to focus on five goals. These included student achievement, financial stability, and achieving unitary status. In order to gain unitary status the court must, in part, deem that our student assignment practices, as embodied in our zone lines, have removed vestiges of past discrimination to the extent practicable. The court must also find that we provide our students with equitable facilities. With regard to facilities, under court order, we are building seven new schools that will provide the equity we seek. The opening of these new schools will see the closure of two old high schools, two old middle schools, and three old elementary schools. These closures will reduce our excess square footage by about 600,000 square feet. It will also necessitate establishment of new zone lines. To raise student achievement and prepare for new zone lines, our school system has increased Pre-K from 13 classrooms to 50 classrooms. The school system has grown Pre-K at McDonnell ES from 1 Pre-K to four Pre-K classrooms. This summer the school system will add another Pre-K at McDonnell. Our system also added a Head Start program for three year old students and a Pre-K classroom at Whitesburg. In 2012 the school sytem adopted a curriculum that has significant resources for students with English language acquisition needs. It also added the Project Lead the Way engineering program at Whitesburg and will add STEM instruction in elementary grades next year to enrich learning at Whitesburg. Upon opening, the new Whitesburg School will include a Situated Multimedia Arts (SMART) Learning Lab for embodied learning.
The school system and families can work together to meet the academic and extracurricular program goals of the community and facilitate the transition to the new school and enrollment zone over the next eighteen months.
We are committed to providing an excellent education to all of its students. At Whitesburg, this means we are focused upon student growth at Whitesburg and advancing student to Grissom who are prepared to achieve outstanding results in the new academies and expanded program we will offer at the new Grissom High School. It is my hope that the energy and passion directed toward concerns about the zone lines can be redirected to help make Whitesburg the premier P8. Please remember that these changes are required to meet our obligation to develop a constitutional enrollment plan. We hope parents will choose to stay at Whitesburg and help us create something truly extraordinary.