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Increased Whiteness at Some Seattle Public Schools Attributed to New Neighborhood School Assignment Plan

It appears that the "good old days" are back. The days when you knew all the kids in your class because they lived next door or a few blocks away from you. The neighborhood kids you played in the sandlot with -- so close that your mom could just peek her head out the window and yell "dinnertime" to beckon you home. Except now there's a twist.

Two years ago, the Seattle Public School District initiated a neighborhood-centered school assignment plan in an effort to cut costs, especially in the transportation sector. Rather than allowing kids to apply to any school in the district and having to bus them around Seattle, students in some districts are assigned and thus expected to attend the school in their own neighborhood. Sounds like a good, even rational plan to save money, right?

That is, until the Times released a story revealing a slight but alarming trend. Some of the schools' racial demographics are changing, as the schools are now reflecting the racial makeup of the neighborhoods.That is to say they're becoming whiter.

While the plan is certainly commendable -- to try "to boost the quality of schools in poorer parts of town so they are just as good as the ones in wealthier neighborhoods" -- the reality is that Seattle schools are slowly beginning to retreat from a long history of racially diverse schools. According to the Times, Seattle was the first major city in the 1970s "to implement busing before being ordered to do so by a court." And although that plan was abandoned in the '90s, it was replaced with the "choice plan" that kept many Seattle Public Schools more racially balanced. Since the implementation of this money-saving neighborhood plan, some schools, namely Alki Elementary, Arbor Heights Elementary, and Sacajawea Elementary (Maple Leaf) have seen increases in "white enrollment," causing the racial diversity to suffer.

Some parents who spoke with the Times expressed concern, stating that they didn't "want to have a homogeneous school for our boys because that's not the world and you have to show your kids that from the very get-go." But school district officials have heralded the $1.4 million that they've managed to save in transportation costs a success, adding that this plan is (one of) the best ways to ensure equality, as it "provides a quality school in every neighborhood."

That begs the question: is the real "problem" that there's a lack of diversity in schools or a racial imbalance in neighborhoods?

· 6 Seattle schools have become whiter as new assignment plan changes racial balance [Seattle Times]
· Times Credits District's New School Assignment Plan with Increasing Whiteness at Six Seattle Schools [Seattle Weekly]