DOJ Questions Civil Rights Compliance in 12th HS Boundaries; Boundary Vote Delayed

| June 3, 2014 | 0 Comments | Education

The federal Department of Justice (DOJ) has requested the Prince William School District (PWCS) provide their department with a list of documents and information to help them “better understand the proposed plan and ensure its compliance with federal civil rights laws.”

Included in the requested information is documentation of specifications and amenities of the new high school, including “but not limited to the new high school’s cost and all features other than ordinary classrooms,” including swimming pools, athletic facilities and computer labs.

As a result of this request, the Prince William County School Board is again postponing its vote on the 12th high school boundaries scheduled for June 4. According to PWCS, the vote will not be held until the School Board reconvenes in September.

“Rescheduling the School Board vote to September will enable staff to answer DOJ questions about the boundary process,” said Phil Kavits, Director of Communication Services for PWCS.

The DOJ request for information came in the form of a June 2 letter written by DOJ Trial Attorney Kelly D. Gardner to Prince William Division Counsel James E. Fagan.

“It followed an unspecified complaint or inquiry to the agency that was not shared with PWCS officials,” Kavits said.

According to the letter, the DOJ is looking into the demographic distribution of students in mid-county.

“We have been reviewing the District’s proposal, the process by which the proposed student attendance boundary was established, and the demographic changes anticipated in the District’s high schools should the proposed boundary be adopted in its current form (i.e., Administrative Recommendation v. 1.2),” Gardner wrote.

In the second paragraph of the letter, Gardner refers to proposed demographic enrollment of the administration’s recommended boundary plan, 1.2., which would create a school population with less diversity than neighboring mid-county schools.

“[Material posted on the District’s websites indicates] the planned 12th High School has a projected enrollment of 36.6% minority students, 63.4% white students and 2.1% LEP [limited English proficiency] students. In [contrast], many of the high schools that surround the 12th High school have enrollments that range from 50% to 90% minority and 6% to 18% LEP students,” Gardner wrote.

The letter also notes that minority enrollment at neighboring schools, such as Osbourn Park High School, “is expected to increase from 51% to 58.7% and minority enrollment at Hylton High School is expected to increase from 70.1% to 74.8%.”

Finally, the DOJ is looking into the reason that some neighborhoods have not been zoned to the closest high school.

“Under the District’s proposal, which includes attendance zones with non-contiguous boundaries, it also appears that some students will be assigned to a high school other than the one closest to their home.”

PWCS is being asked by the DOJ to comply by providing 17 documents or information that satisfies their inquiries.

The first document requested is that PWCS provides the cost of the school, including amenities beyond classrooms. At a cost of $97.9 million, the high school will be the most expensive ever to be built in the Commonwealth of Virginia and will include a $8.5 million aquatic center, as well as other amenities such as fields, an orchestra lift, a large theatre-style auditorium and black box theatre.

To read the letter and find out all of the required information and documentation, readers can click here.

Chairman At-Large Milton C. Johns said that his board is happy to comply.

“Staff have been working hard to develop boundaries that are equitable and effective in serving student needs, and responsive to community feedback,” said Johns. “If the DOJ needs more information to understand how we are doing that, we are happy to provide it.”

According to Kavits, delaying the vote until September will give schools, division offices, and community members less time to begin planning for transportation needs, specialty school decisions and other long-term arrangements. However, no financial implications are anticipated unless the process drags out beyond the fall, and the delay will not affect school construction or the planned opening of the 12th high school in September 2016.

“The delay in the boundary vote removes the issue from the School Board’s discussion agenda for June 4,” Kavits said. “Community members seeking to address the issue may wish to adjust their plans accordingly.”

Read about the Boundary Plan 1.2 here, including the PWCS Planning Department’s response to the proposed boundary and demographic enrollment. 

© 2014, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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