Precedents for cutting a school program to make schools equal?
March 17, 2015 7:59 AM   Subscribe

School system is trying to demonstrate equality of education across schools to comply with a longstanding federal court order. One way they are trying to achieve this is by taking away programs that are only offered at one school. Looking for other examples where this type of decision has been made, and perhaps, overturned.

Specifically they just announced that my son's middle school can no longer offer a jazz band elective since no other schools have that. As this seems like a policy which penalizes some students and helps nobody, I am looking for past precedents of places where this sort of policy has been tried, and perhaps been changed to something more sensible.

news story
news story

Proposed Consent Order

Here's the type of language used to justify this. (Lee High School is designated as a magnet school for Performing Arts.)
Excerpt from "Clarification and Amendments to Proposed Consent Order"
"Moreover, the board must see that the dance programming at Lee exceeds that of other schools. This will include, as necessary, limiting dance programming at the other schools. While the dance program at Lee will not be the only program, the breadth and quality of its offerings will exceed those at other schools."
posted by tracer to Law & Government (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This doesn't answer your question directly, but might help to narrow your search a bit.

Magnet schools are designed to have a special curriculum to attract students as a form of voluntary desegregation. In reading the consent order documents, they are trying to strengthen the existing arts magnet schools in the district to make them more attractive to students.

In looking for examples, you should focus on the magnet school programming aspect.
posted by statsgirl at 8:35 AM on March 17, 2015

Equalization of extracurricular activities is one of the required desegregation factors established in Green (see also [pdf]).

To make things equal, you have to offer it to all or offer it to none. Since offering it to all would be expensive, and require higher taxes, offering it to none is the politically-less-risky move.

Magnet schools may offer different extracurricular activities in pursuit of the magnet school's purpose (e.g., more performing arts electives for a performing arts school). But, in order for those programs to be special programs of the magnet school, they have to actually be special -- that is, not shared by other non-magnet schools. The purpose of magnet schools was to bring more white kids into the black neighborhoods without busing/forced integration -- this purpose cannot be achieved if the "white" non-magnet schools offer the same curriculum (while the "black" non-magnet schools do not).

You can do some searching on the the Green factors, but they've generally been upheld. The fallout in this particular case seems to be a result of people not wanting to raise the revenue necessary to give all children equal access to the additional extracurricular activities.

Some cases that might help your search are (in shortened form):
Also - a great timeline of desegregation cases from the ABA: [PDF]
posted by melissasaurus at 9:08 AM on March 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

So this isn't necessarily about the court process, but one way I've seen this handled in other areas (such as the NYC public school my daughter attended) is that the extracurricular programming is separated from school funding and provided through fundraising from the PTA or parent's groups. This way, the school funding and school programming provided at each location is equalized, but through parent's fundraising, extra opportunities can be provided. This is still considered equal because each school has an equal opportunity to raise funds for the programs. I think some of the PTAs may also have created themselves as nonprofit entities to allow for tax-deductible donations? Though I'm not quite sure on that score, but it may be something to look into.
posted by corb at 9:18 AM on March 17, 2015 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the useful answers. I wanted to clarify that I'm not necessarily looking for precedents in a legal sense, but also maybe examples of where this happened, and how it worked out.
posted by tracer at 11:43 AM on March 17, 2015

Best answer: We haven't had situations like this in the school system in the city where I live, but we have had some very good parent advocacy that has helped to overturn decisions made by the school committee to close schools or to move programs. The first step is document what the program offers and who it offers the program to- so for instance if the program trains any student who wants to be a jazz musician regardless of if they have had musical instrument classes before, how many kids are served, what is the racial breakdown, what is the academic rewards (there are all sorts of connections between math and music). You should try and organize a broad group of people who want to retain the program- the principal of the school, teachers, parents and students. The next step is to organize people to reach out to elected officials and school committee members. After that, get some social media going- if you think you have enough support, online petitions have been successful. Sign up to speak at The School committee meetings. Also, I would try and document what other schools have- do other schools have sports teams that some don't? Any other clubs or enrichments? Try and make the case (if possible) that all schools have something that other schools do not. I have been so surprised at how much can be accomplished by just getting out and talking to people about something. I also have been surprised at how my opinion has sometimes shifted based on other people's arguments.
posted by momochan at 2:09 PM on March 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: That was exactly what I was looking for.

Turns out there was a false alarm, at least in the case of the jazz band.
posted by tracer at 6:59 AM on March 18, 2015

It would still be good to gather the information that momochan describes, above: the good stuff will serve to boost morale, the shortages reveal places to organize the community to improve, and sharing it will promote dialogue & transparency all over town. And that's a very good baseline for future fights efforts. :7)
posted by wenestvedt at 7:49 AM on March 19, 2015

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