Sunday, October 13, 2013

Racial Equity Inquiry About Maple Elementary Boundary Change Proposal

To: Bernardo Ruiz, Director of School Family Partnerships and Equity and Race Relations at Seattle Public Schools
From: Julie van Arcken, Maple Elementary School parent
Date: October 13, 2013
RE: Racial equity inquiry about Maple Elementary boundary change proposal

Dear Mr. Ruiz:

I live in Mid Beacon Hill, within the walk zone for Maple Elementary, where my daughter attends kindergarten. With its majority Asian population (26% white, 21% Filipino, 20% Chinese, 17% Vietnamese), Mid Beacon Hill benefits enormously from its zoning at Maple Elementary. Under the expert guidance of Principal Pat Hunter, the school has spent years developing protocol to help children who only speak Asian languages learn English.

As part of its Growth Boundaries Project, on Sept. 17, the district released a draft proposal that would shut children from racially diverse Mid Beacon Hill out of its district-defined Maple walk zone, and start bussing those children to faraway Van Asselt. Because this proposal was so clearly contradictory to the project’s stated objectives of equity, walkability, and data-driven decisions, as well as the district’s overall policy of racial equity, I believed I only needed to explain the issue to the Growth Boundaries Project leaders to get the changes made.

At the Sept. 23 community meeting at Mercer, and again at the Sept. 30 meeting at Meany, and again at the Oct. 2 Seattle School Board meeting, I asked the district to revise their boundary proposal to let families within the Maple walk zone in Mid Beacon Hill remain at Maple. A number of parents from Georgetown, a 78% white community outside the Maple walk zone, also attended these meetings and asked to remain at the school.

In the new Oct. 11 Maple boundary proposal, I was surprised to see that the district continued to shut out Mid Beacon Hill families who live within the Maple walk zone, while allowing back in Georgetown families who do not live within the Maple walk zone. The only reason I can imagine for this is that that the district received more comments from Georgetown than Beacon Hill.

To understand why the district would receive more comments from Georgetown than Mid Beacon Hill, please see the chart below. The majority of Mid Beacon Hill residents speak languages other than English. A racially and linguistically diverse neighborhood will never be able to coordinate a feedback blitz the way a majority-white, majority-English-speaking neighborhood can.

Racial and Linguistic Diversity of Georgetown and Mid Beacon Hill

GeorgetownMid Beacon Hill
Has families in the Maple walk zoneNoYes
Speak only English at home66%44%

From the US Census Bureau's American Community Survey (ACS) 2011 5-year estimates, released December 2012. Based on data collected from January 1, 2007 to December 31, 2011, and centric to mid-2009. The census tract used for Georgetown was 53033010900, and Mid Beacon Hill was 53033010402. See (race) and (language).

To test my assumption that the district has not effectively engaged non-white families in the boundary process to the extent they’ve engaged white families, I created the bar graph below. I took the all the Growth Boundaries community feedback comments from the table in Appendix C of the Oct. 16 School Board agenda (, and isolated the comments classified as pertaining to existing neighborhood K-5 schools. In the cases where the classification named two schools, I counted each separately but weighted them both as 0.5 comments. For comments that named a grade school along with a middle school or high school, I counted it as if it were only about the grade school. I then correlated the number of comments received with the percentage of white students at that school, as reported by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction’s Washington State Report Card website ( - October 2012 data).

In the chart, you’ll notice that the number of comments about a school’s boundary rarely exceeds the percentage of white students at that school. Basically, it seems when the district conducts a process using only English-language materials and only communicated in English via websites with no direct outreach, a disproportionate number of white families provide feedback.

Notably, with the three non-white schools that received a lot of feedback, the comments presented at the Mercer community meeting and the School Board meeting were almost entirely from white parents. This is based on my own visual observation; you can also review the School Board meeting video here: In the case of Maple, most of the comments were from the 78% white community of Georgetown, which did have its voices heard.

Meanwhile, schools with a white population of less than 10% received literally no feedback, or virtually no feedback. In the case of Dearborn Park, which most radically would be changed to a language-immersion-only option school, with all the families being rezoned for Van Asselt, the district received just two comments. (And at least one, if not both, of those comments were from me personally, so they do not count.) Using the district’s feedback mechanism as a guide, you would think that no one at Dearborn Park cares in the slightest that their entire school is going to be taken away from them.

Based on my findings above, I’m concerned the district may not be ensuring racial and cultural equity in the boundary planning process. Mr. Ruiz, can you answer the following questions for me, about racial equity in the boundary planning process for my daughter’s school, Maple Elementary?

1) How has the district considered racial equity when determining which families get to remain within the Maple attendance zone? Why would a neighborhood of majority-white, majority-English-speaking families who live outside the walk zone be prioritized over a neighborhood of majority non-English-speaking families of color who live within the walk zone? How does this support the project’s stated objectives of equity, walkability, and data-driven decisions, as well as the district’s policy #0030 of racial equity? The area being shut out of the walk zone is a relatively small chunk of Mid Beacon Hill – the ask was not larger than Georgetown’s.

2) Can you explain specifically what racial equity analysis tool has been applied to soliciting and reviewing feedback on the new Maple boundaries? According to the “Racial Equity Analysis” section of Seattle Public Schools’ Policy 0030, “The district shall review existing policies, programs, professional development and procedures to ensure the promotion of racial equity, and all applicable new policies, programs and procedures will be developed using a racial equity analysis tool.” What racial equity analysis tool is being used for the community feedback process, and how is its effectiveness being tested?

3) Did the district announce its original draft Maple boundary proposal through direct outreach (ie, flyers sent home with students) in Maple families’ native languages? My daughter attends Maple, and I have not gotten a single handout that even announces that any changes are happening, let alone that we would be assigned to a different school. I only got one email, back in September.

4) Has any of the Oct. 11 boundary revision information been translated into Maple families’ native languages and directly circulated? If so, how much time will be allowed for feedback after those translated materials are circulated? Will the feedback mechanism require access to computers and an understanding of English?

5) Was racial and cultural equity considered when the most-diverse local community meeting (Mercer Middle School, the only meeting in Southeast Seattle) was scheduled first of all the meetings, taking place just two days after “improved” maps were posted to the district website?

I understand that the boundary planning process has been a monumental task, and truly representative feedback may be difficult to attain. However, in the absence of effective tools to ensure representative feedback, the district should not assume that silence equals consent. The district should not assume that only white, English-speaking families want to keep their children to keep going to their current schools, and non-English-speaking families of color don’t mind being shut out of their walk zones to be bussed to faraway schools.

Mr. Ruiz, I’d be very happy to meet with you and the Growth Boundaries Project leaders to discuss this issue together as soon as possible. The feedback timeline is very short, so I would appreciate a quick response.

Julie van Arcken
Maple Elementary Parent


Anonymous said...

Well done, I really hope this gets their attention. I felt incredibly uncomfortable when the principal of my child's school suggested our ELL students be educated elsewhere to reduce overcrowding (in front of our ELL families).

mondaytuesdaywednesdaythursdayfridaysaturdaysunday said...

Thanks for a very thorough assessment and civil inquiry. I hope that Mr. Ruiz is able to provide answers.