Transfers endanger diversity at Oakton

Nomaan Merchant

As one local school prepares to house a new African-centered curriculum pilot program, some southeast Evanston families may no longer be allowed to enroll their children in non-neighborhood schools.

During a meeting of the Evanston/Skokie School District 65 School Board Monday night, board members and administrators discussed halting transfers out of Oakton Elementary School, 436 Ridge Ave.

Now, families living in Oakton’s attendance area can apply to move their children to one of District 65’s two magnet schools or another district school.

Transfers often are requested to keep siblings at one school or to allow students to remain at a school after their family moves.

But Superintendent Hardy Murphy said the district approves transfers only when racial balance is met and space in each school is utilized.

Local officials are concerned that allowing transfers from Oakton will lead to insufficient enrollment for its general education classes.

The African-centered curriculum pilot, which targets black student achievement, will be the main component of Oakton’s dramatic transformation starting in September.

This fall Oakton will become a “language, literacy, and cultural center,” housing three different programs. In addition to general education and the African-centered pilot, Oakton will also host two classrooms of the district’s Two-Way Immersion program.

TWI places native English- and native Spanish-speaking students in one classroom and provides instruction in both languages.

District administrators are concerned that permitting transfer requests will violate district policy, which forbids more than 60 percent of a school’s population to be of one race.

Though some classrooms at Oakton now are predominantly black, the school met the percentage guideline this year. About half of the school’s students are black and almost 30 percent are white.

Administrators said they won’t know about Oakton’s racial makeup for certain until school starts next fall.

So far, 35 students from around the district, most of them black, have applied to enroll in Oakton’s curriculum pilot. Of the eight applicants starting kindergarten this fall, six are black. Four of the eight now reside in Oakton’s attendance area.

But officials don’t know how many students of each race will enter TWI or general education, which may make it necessary to halt transfers out of Oakton to maintain racial balance.

“What we’re just saying here is that a decision won’t be made until June (or) the beginning of July,” Board President Mary Erickson said.

Several white parents said the changes to Oakton led them to request a transfer.

“I, for one, do not want my children to be part of an experiment,” current Oakton parent Alex Rubenstein said. “Oakton has become a de facto magnet school.”

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