At their meeting last week, board members of the Sequoia Union High School District (Menlo-Atherton, Woodside, Sequoia and Carlmont) talked about this issue, the solutions to which will probably please some and not others.
Pleasing East Palo Alto students should be high on their agenda, and it is. These students are essentially neighbors of Menlo-Atherton but ride a bus to school, whether to Woodside High or Carlmont, 11 miles away. Busing is a legacy from the 1980s and a court-ordered consent decree to the Sequoia district to diversify the ethnic makeup of its schools. For decades, the Ravenswood City Elementary School District students have been the sacrificial lambs for this diversity initiative. They are saying that they've had enough, and justifiably. They want to have the option to go to M-A.
To provide this option, the board may have to either add more classrooms to M-A or revise the attendance boundaries for other areas of the district, which might upset whatever neighborhood is chosen to attend another high school. With 2,000 students now at M-A, the district might have to enlarge the school to accept another 200 or 300 from Ravenswood.
Rather than wreck a long tradition of M-A attendance by students from North Fair Oaks and the Las Lomitas district, as some parents fear might happen, a much better solution would be adding classrooms — as long as they can be positioned in a way that will not disrupt the school.
In our view, the Ravenswood students should be given automatic entry to M-A in making the transition from busing them to other schools. Automatic entry would bring with it the significant benefit of looking after Ravenswood students who lack advocates to speak for them when choosing a high school. With open enrollment, they could still choose a school other than M-A.
It will be a challenge for the district to assess each high school and decide how and where to build new classrooms. Some will have to be added as second stories; others may fit on campuses at ground level. With a complete assessment, voters will have to approve a bond issue to pay for the added capacity. But the amount should be far less than the estimated $200 million cost of a new high school, if a site could even be found.
It is heartening to see the board recognize that East Palo Alto students have borne the brunt of a moldering and out-of-date desegregation policy imposed on the district in the 1980s. Students have spent hours on buses every day just to get to school when they could have walked or biked just a few miles to M-A.
Now the Sequoia board members must craft a new open-enrollment policy that includes M-A privileges for Ravenswood students. With that accomplished, the board can then embrace another series of community meetings to be held this fall. On their collective plate are revisions to attendance boundaries and finding the money for capital improvements, particularly at M-A. A significant part of the coming jump in enrollment originates in Menlo Park.