Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Whites, Hispanics and school boundaries

Joel Rubin:

In the fast-growing suburbs of Southern California, where few things matter more to parents than their schools, the lines that separate attendance areas often double as boundaries of class and culture, race and ethnicity.

District administrators tinker with them at their peril.

Consider the case of the Capistrano Unified School District, in south Orange County, where some parents are angrily protesting the coming transfer of their children to a gleaming new $67-million high school.

Capistrano parents and students lament the breaking of personal bonds and family traditions that can come with changing schools. They worry about trading a high-achieving school for one with no track record.

"It's a different place — a whole different element out there," said Catrina Crawford, who fought the plan to send her children to the new school, which will draw from disparate neighborhoods in the sprawling district, including less affluent, primarily Latino areas.

"It's like we're sending our kids to another state. They're going to go to school with kids from families we don't know — a lot of them will be from lower-income and single-parent homes."

"We're not rancheros," agreed another mother, Vickie Patterson, using the Spanish word for rancher.

Capistrano Unified, in which poorer Latino immigrant neighborhoods are surrounded by more affluent beach communities and housing developments, illustrates how growth has forced school districts to navigate greater ethnic and economic diversity in the hallways of newly built schools, educators say.

"Changing boundaries are one of the hardest things schools have to deal with," said Samantha Bauer, a spokeswoman for the Elk Grove Unified School District, near Sacramento, where 24 proposed schools would reshuffle the demographics of the district.

"Parents talk about losing academic programs and test scores, but what they're really saying is 'Leave my neighborhood alone. Don't make us mix.' "

In Chino Hills, middle-class parents balked last year at new boundaries that would send their children to a new elementary school in a poor minority neighborhood. In Fontana, where student enrollment is expected to swell 15% in the next five years, officials say they are braced for opposition to plans for moving students from entrenched neighborhoods.

Last month, trustees for the 50,000-student Capistrano Unified district approved changes in attendance boundaries to apportion more than 14,000 high school students among five existing campuses and the new San Juan Hills High School. The move will affect thousands of students entering high school when the new campus opens in 2006 at the eastern end of San Juan Capistrano.

The vote came after months of stormy debate, angry phone calls and e-mails to school officials and lobbying by local politicians. In March, on a day students were to take state assessment tests, parents in one neighborhood kept their children home to protest Supt. James A. Fleming's recommendation to the trustees. Nearly 1,000 people attended a subsequent hearing on the new boundaries, at which more than 140 people pleaded their case before the school board.

After the board voted, parents in one gated community began the lengthy legal process to secede from the district. Another group of parents say they will announce at a district meeting tonight that they intend to launch a campaign to recall the trustees, in part because of their vote on the boundaries.

"This has been one hell of an experience," Capistrano Trustee John Casabianca told parents. "We have taken a lot of heat, and our communities are being pulled apart and divided."

The new boundaries will bring students from distinct communities together at the new high school. About a third of the 2,200 students at San Juan Hills High will be from Latino families, many of them immigrants and English learners living in low-income apartments. To achieve a balance and fill the school to capacity, Fleming will pull in students from Capistrano Beach and Ladera Ranch, two wealthier neighborhoods in surrounding cities.

Perhaps most angered by the plan were scores of parents in Capistrano Beach, a neighborhood perched on a cliff overlooking the ocean. After more than three decades within the attendance boundary of nearby San Clemente High School, the community will eventually send about 400 teenagers about 10 miles inland to San Juan Hills High when it opens, under the district's plan.

San Clemente High has been a focal point in the tightknit community, fostering an allegiance that spans generations.

"My mother went to San Clemente, my brothers and I went, and we think our children should go," Crawford said. "There is something to be said for tradition."

It's a school that for decades has paraded its homecoming king and queen down Avenida Del Mar and where members of the thriving surf team often arrive in class wet from morning practice. Now, Capistrano Beach parents fear the new boundaries will create fissures in their neighborhood as students are divided between two high schools after growing up together.

"When you move into a community, you buy into a lifestyle," said parent Amy Hanacek. "We are a beach community. Our children grow up together. They would literally be fish out of water … if they were forced to move."

Several Capistrano Beach parents said they would prefer to keep their children at overcrowded San Clemente High than move them to San Juan Hills, which will have six academic buildings, a vast sports complex and a 550-seat, professional-caliber theater anchoring a performing arts center.

Parents and real estate agents in Ladera Ranch — a development of 5,000 homes that accounts for a significant part of the district's growth — voiced similar objections to the new boundaries. A group concerned about the plan to split Ladera children between San Juan Hills and Tesoro High School in Las Flores sent mailers to families to rally support for an alternative plan that would have kept all Ladera students at one school.

With district projections that more than a third of students at San Juan Hills would be Latino, a website the group posted warned parents that "the high ethnic ratios would ensure a larger percentage of children from San Juan Capistrano who are at risk of failure and who do not perform well on standardized testing would attend" the new school.

It was a scenario, the parent group wrote, that would harm students' chances of college admission and drag down property values in the development, where the cheapest condominiums cost $400,000 and houses run as high as $1.8 million.

Parents pointed to Capistrano Valley High School, which serves most of the Latino students in San Juan Capistrano. After years of steady improvement, Capistrano Valley's average test scores suddenly dropped three years ago when a previous change in boundaries sent hundreds of relatively wealthy non-Latino students to another school.

Regardless, Emma Barrera, a mother of five who came to San Juan Capistrano from Mexico with her family in 1998, bristles about her children being shunned.

"It is sad, the attitude of some of the parents that they do not accept that their children will have ties to our kids," Barrera said. "I understand that parents want to create a special community for their children and that they are concerned for them. But we have to think about teaching our kids flexibility, because it is the real world."

Education officials in other California school districts facing rapid growth — especially throughout Riverside and San Bernardino counties — said Capistrano was hardly alone in dealing with the cultural and class friction that arises with the opening of new schools.

"No one came right out and said it, but [race and class] was the undercurrent," said Julie Gobin, a spokeswoman for the Chino Valley Unified School District, which has dealt with demographic changes at new schools in recent years. "We knew there would be a shift in ethnicity at some schools, but we were clear that there was no way around it. You just have to expand with the room you have. No matter what you do, changing boundaries is always going to leave some people unhappy."

The tension has been exacerbated as a bubble of students has reached high school age, state education officials said. The swell of students has played a large part in redrawing boundaries as nearly 200 public high schools have been built in the last five years.

Hopefully this will make some California liberals rethink the "benefits" of mass immigration.


At 9:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not just in CA.

One of the major problems with the issue of immigration is that middle/working class people are the ones who pay the vast majority of social costs. The elites, including college educated professionals, can largely duck a lot of these social costs by carefully choosing where they live. This is why the vast majority of American citizens want true immigration reform and lower numbers while the elites in the media, government, business, and academia want more, more, more.

I used to live in the inner suburbs in VA just outside of Washington DC. I recently wrote a letter, which was published in the Washington Post, describing how the 'non-resident parking' problem in an expensive single-family neighborhood was, in fact, an over-crowded housing problem in a nearby apartment complex that had successfully housed mainly working class tenants for decades until it was inundated by immigrants who packed many more people into an apartment than the complex was designed to hold. By the time the parking problem reached the single-family home neighborhood, the over-crowding had completely destroyed the apartment community.

A friend of mine who had always held the rose-colored glasses view of immigration called to say he'd seen my letter. Seems that the public schools in his area were having major problems because of, what else, a massive influx of immigrants - many, if not most, likely illegal. He has a son and daughter in the public schools there. I think that in addition to my letter, he may also have seen the light.

At 2:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I cannot believe what I am reading. This is absolutely ridiculous. Most schools have some kind of wording that states " we do not judge students by age, sex, or RACE". The white people complain too much and they should stop because I dont think they know how badly these words affect people. Another solution to make as a parents, is if the parents wants their son/daughter to go to a certain school there are three choices.One, you could always move. Because as a well grown adult, realize that California is more Latin-occupied than most. Two, you could send your child to a private school. Or three, you could stop the complaining and teach you child that this is the real world. The District needs to make sure they do the correct thing to do, or there will be some major law suites by the people.


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