Policy rules out race as magnet program admissions factor

Eunice Lee

When Evanston/Skokie School District 65 officials review magnet-program applicants for Fall 2008, race can no longer be considered an admissions factor, according to a new policy passed Dec. 17.

This revised policy will affect the district’s two magnet schools, Dr. Bessie Rhodes and King Lab. Other elementary schools with magnet programs such as Dawes, Dewey, Oakton, Washington and Willard will also be affected by the changes. These schools offer either the African-Centered Curriculum Program, which aims to integrate African and African-American culture in the curriculum, or the Two-Way Immersion program, where classes are taught in both Spanish and English.

The policy was formerly passed in December, but school officials started to exclude race as an admissions factor during the summer. The procedures were changed after a Supreme Court case, Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, decided on June 5, 2006. The court ruled that administrators in the Seattle School District were no longer allowed to use race as a tie-breaker in school admissions decisions.

All applications accepted for fall 2007 enrollment were reviewed to ensure that individual students were not affected by racial factors, said Lora Taira, assistant director of Information Services. Only one student was found to be directly affected by racial considerations.

Other factors considered in enrollment decisions include gender balance, overcrowding, neighborhood and siblings.

Another part of the policy is that special emphasis will be placed on preventing overcrowding and keeping class sizes within established guidelines, Taira said.

Balancing classroom sizes and making sure that there is consistency among all the schools in the district will be a major focus of administrations.

Board Policy Committee Chair Katie Bailey agreed that keeping classes balanced is of utmost importance.

“Currently some schools are more at capacity than others,” Bailey said in reference to Dewey and Willard elementary schools. “We want to make sure that applications from students from those schools will receive greater weight when deciding enrollment for magnet schools.”

Keir Rogers, principal of King Lab, said that while race had never been an admissions factor, socioeconomic status has been.

“We don’t look at color, but rather means of living,” Rogers said. “In that way, King Lab will maintain its diversity.”

Taira said the consequences of the changes to this policy will be constantly monitored.

“We don’t know what the impact will be yet,” said Taira. ” But we are going to continue watching (it) over the years.”

District 65 Superintendent Hardy Murphy said this policy, rather than addressing any particular issue in schools, will help administrations manage areas considered in the admissions process.

“We do not think that this policy will have a significant impact on our schools,” Murphy said. “Race is just one in an entire hierarchy of variables that are considered for school enrollment.”

Lisa Hershenson, co-president of the Dr. Bessie Rhodes PTA, said the school has shown consistency in balancing both student population and gender in its admissions process.

“We pretty consistently have evenly spread gender balance and the administration has done a good job about evenly spreading classes,” Hershenson said. “Whether the policy will have an impact at all, only time will tell.”

Reach Eunice Lee at [email protected]