News

Civil rights lawyers scrutinize school district

In a bid to start a conversation on addressing poor academic performance among students from the Ravenswood City School District who attend high schools in the Sequoia Union High School District, a group of Bay Area civil rights lawyers has issued a report that attempts to put the Sequoia district on notice that its interactions with Ravenswood are under scrutiny.

The Bay Area chapter of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights issued a 36-page report dated July 2013 that takes the Sequoia district to task for 30 years of subdividing the cohort of students from the Ravenswood elementary district among three high schools. While students from the Belle Haven neighborhood are assigned to nearby Menlo-Atherton High, East Palo Alto students face an eight-mile bus trip to Woodside High or an 11-mile trip to Carlmont High, where the first period starts at 8 a.m.

"Educational opportunity is a critical component for the life success of our youth, particularly youth of color," the report says. "Encouraging and ensuring that supports are in place to help students succeed at every level should be fundamental to our educational systems.

"Arbitrary and harmful policies that disproportionately and negatively impact students of color are infringements with life-altering implications. This (report) seeks to bring attention to a problem in Sequoia Union High School District that can be easily addressed to ensure that all students have an equal opportunity to succeed."

The East Palo Alto community had been served by Ravenswood High School, but the Sequoia district board closed it in 1976. The school had declining enrollment and a concentration of people of color, according to a Ravenswood alumni association history. A 1983 court-ordered consent decree -- which the Lawyers' Committee report does not mention -- required the Sequoia district to establish populations at each high school that fell within 5 percentage points of reflecting the district's ethnic diversity as a whole, Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Morgan Marchbanks told the Almanac.

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The consent decree expired after six years, but the busing continued. The district's logic: "If we met the spirit of the consent decree, leave it in place," Ms. Marchbanks said. Why was Sequoia High School not an option? The school's assignment plan abuts the Ravenswood district. Sequoia High was excluded because, at the time, it did not need to go outside its assignment plan to acquire a sufficiently diverse population, Ms. Marchbanks said.

Sequoia district officials have been meeting with Ravenswood district officials once a month for the past two years to address the achievement gap and related issues of inequity, Ms. Marchbanks said.

The Sequoia district responded to the report with a letter, a draft of which was provided to the Almanac. "We are pleased to see that this report's findings and recommendations are nearly identical to ongoing SUHSD policy directions based on work begun two years ago by the superintendent and board, as anyone following the board's deliberations, policy setting and budget priorities will recognize," the letter said.

The report comes on the heels of a series of community forums in May led by Sequoia district Superintendent James Lianides and meant to inform the communities about projections that over the next decade, high school enrollment will jump 22 percent. One topic that came up repeatedly: the importance of intact middle-school cohorts as students move through high school.

Three of the four high schools are expected to exceed their maximum capacity by 2020, and a new school is not in the cards. Properties large enough to accommodate one are rare if not nonexistent, and with an estimated cost of $200 million, are financially out of reach. Expansion of the built-out campuses will have to go up rather than out. As for how to pay for it, the district's capital improvement fund sits at $9 million. A bond measure proposal is all but certain.

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Among the initiatives the Sequoia board is considering in the interim is an open-enrollment preference for Ravenswood students that would put them at the head of the line in transferring to Menlo-Atherton High. Such an enrollment privilege for admission to M-A has long been in place for households in the Las Lomitas Elementary School District that are located outside the M-A assignment plan.

Las Lomitas families are not the only families given preferential treatment. In a related policy, families assigned to M-A from the unincorporated Fair Oaks/Friendly Acres neighborhood between Atherton and Redwood City also have privileged placement if they want it, but to schools other than M-A.

Go to this link for a copy of the Lawyers' Committee report.

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Civil rights lawyers scrutinize school district

by Dave Boyce / Almanac

Uploaded: Wed, Jul 17, 2013, 11:30 am

In a bid to start a conversation on addressing poor academic performance among students from the Ravenswood City School District who attend high schools in the Sequoia Union High School District, a group of Bay Area civil rights lawyers has issued a report that attempts to put the Sequoia district on notice that its interactions with Ravenswood are under scrutiny.

The Bay Area chapter of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights issued a 36-page report dated July 2013 that takes the Sequoia district to task for 30 years of subdividing the cohort of students from the Ravenswood elementary district among three high schools. While students from the Belle Haven neighborhood are assigned to nearby Menlo-Atherton High, East Palo Alto students face an eight-mile bus trip to Woodside High or an 11-mile trip to Carlmont High, where the first period starts at 8 a.m.

"Educational opportunity is a critical component for the life success of our youth, particularly youth of color," the report says. "Encouraging and ensuring that supports are in place to help students succeed at every level should be fundamental to our educational systems.

"Arbitrary and harmful policies that disproportionately and negatively impact students of color are infringements with life-altering implications. This (report) seeks to bring attention to a problem in Sequoia Union High School District that can be easily addressed to ensure that all students have an equal opportunity to succeed."

The East Palo Alto community had been served by Ravenswood High School, but the Sequoia district board closed it in 1976. The school had declining enrollment and a concentration of people of color, according to a Ravenswood alumni association history. A 1983 court-ordered consent decree -- which the Lawyers' Committee report does not mention -- required the Sequoia district to establish populations at each high school that fell within 5 percentage points of reflecting the district's ethnic diversity as a whole, Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Morgan Marchbanks told the Almanac.

The consent decree expired after six years, but the busing continued. The district's logic: "If we met the spirit of the consent decree, leave it in place," Ms. Marchbanks said. Why was Sequoia High School not an option? The school's assignment plan abuts the Ravenswood district. Sequoia High was excluded because, at the time, it did not need to go outside its assignment plan to acquire a sufficiently diverse population, Ms. Marchbanks said.

Sequoia district officials have been meeting with Ravenswood district officials once a month for the past two years to address the achievement gap and related issues of inequity, Ms. Marchbanks said.

The Sequoia district responded to the report with a letter, a draft of which was provided to the Almanac. "We are pleased to see that this report's findings and recommendations are nearly identical to ongoing SUHSD policy directions based on work begun two years ago by the superintendent and board, as anyone following the board's deliberations, policy setting and budget priorities will recognize," the letter said.

The report comes on the heels of a series of community forums in May led by Sequoia district Superintendent James Lianides and meant to inform the communities about projections that over the next decade, high school enrollment will jump 22 percent. One topic that came up repeatedly: the importance of intact middle-school cohorts as students move through high school.

Three of the four high schools are expected to exceed their maximum capacity by 2020, and a new school is not in the cards. Properties large enough to accommodate one are rare if not nonexistent, and with an estimated cost of $200 million, are financially out of reach. Expansion of the built-out campuses will have to go up rather than out. As for how to pay for it, the district's capital improvement fund sits at $9 million. A bond measure proposal is all but certain.

Among the initiatives the Sequoia board is considering in the interim is an open-enrollment preference for Ravenswood students that would put them at the head of the line in transferring to Menlo-Atherton High. Such an enrollment privilege for admission to M-A has long been in place for households in the Las Lomitas Elementary School District that are located outside the M-A assignment plan.

Las Lomitas families are not the only families given preferential treatment. In a related policy, families assigned to M-A from the unincorporated Fair Oaks/Friendly Acres neighborhood between Atherton and Redwood City also have privileged placement if they want it, but to schools other than M-A.

Go to this link for a copy of the Lawyers' Committee report.

Comments

concerned
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 17, 2013 at 12:28 pm
concerned, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 17, 2013 at 12:28 pm

The real issue is that new school capacity is needed to replace the old Ravenswood High School property that was unfortunately sold off many years ago. Palo Alto followed a much wiser course and held onto their school properties during periods of declining enrollment, so they have plenty of options now that enrollment is going up again. The loss of Ravenswood High School property hurts the kids in East Palo Alto and East Menlo Park because they don't have a high school in their community. This hurts the rest of the community as well because the remaining schools are already overcrowded, and there is a lot more enrollment coming that is already in the elementary school pipeline. Great high schools, of appropriate sizes, are SO important to the future of our community. The current board and supt had nothing to do with this decision, and they are trying to make the best out of difficult circumstances, but they cannot fix this problem on their own. We need a consortium of all the governing agencies and business as well to come together to find a way to secure a new school site. Just adding more capacity to the existing schools will simply create mega schools that are unwieldy to manage and impersonal for kids. Our community can and should do much better for the kids.


G
Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jul 17, 2013 at 1:09 pm
G, Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jul 17, 2013 at 1:09 pm

I read recently that the Ravenswood Elementary District selling off school property. Shouldn't our high school district have the first rights to this?


Local parent
Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jul 17, 2013 at 1:49 pm
Local parent, Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jul 17, 2013 at 1:49 pm

Las Lomitas school district may be impacted by a change in high school boundaries. Parents are naturally concerned that splitting up an exhisting cohort of middle school students between Woodside and MA will be disruptive socially. But hearing that EPA kids have had their cohorts split between 3 high schools for decades, I don't feel we should complain.

I strongly agree with "Concerned" that building up is not a good solution. The high schools are overwhelmingly big and there's a lot of data showing that kids perform better when in small school populations.

There seems to be a lot of new development in the port/Bair Island area of Redwood City. Isn't the Salt Works project set to add hundreds of housing units? Logistically and geographically, that looks like an opportunity for a new high school site that the district shouldn't overlook.


Hmmm
another community
on Jul 17, 2013 at 3:32 pm
Hmmm, another community
on Jul 17, 2013 at 3:32 pm

Solution for Belle Haven: Make the schools in Belle Haven part of THE REST of the Menlo community. For Pete's sake, it's not rocket surgery. Or are you all too snotty to do it? It's the right thing.


concerned
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 17, 2013 at 9:17 pm
concerned, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 17, 2013 at 9:17 pm

If you want to start changing elementary school district boundaries to correspond with city boundaries, there are lots of issues to resolve. The other elementary school districts don't correspond with the city boundaries either. Atherton is split between three elementary school districts: Redwood City, Menlo Park and Las Lomitas. Woodside is split into three districts: Woodside, Portola Valley and Las Lomitas. Menlo Park is split into three school districts: Las Lomitas, Menlo Park and Ravenswood.


peninsula resident
Menlo-Atherton High School
on Jul 17, 2013 at 11:16 pm
peninsula resident, Menlo-Atherton High School
on Jul 17, 2013 at 11:16 pm

> Solution for Belle Haven: Make the schools in Belle Haven part of THE REST of the Menlo community.

Did you read the article? If you had, you would have read this:

"students from the Belle Haven neighborhood are assigned to nearby Menlo-Atherton High"

Transferring Bell Haven schools to MPCSD would not change what HS they go to; they ALREADY go to MA.


peninsula resident
Menlo-Atherton High School
on Jul 17, 2013 at 11:24 pm
peninsula resident, Menlo-Atherton High School
on Jul 17, 2013 at 11:24 pm

> an open-enrollment preference for Ravenswood students that would put them at the head of the line in transferring to Menlo-Atherton High. Such an enrollment privilege for admission to M-A has long been in place for households in the Las Lomitas Elementary School District

How many students would have enrollment privilege, potentially?


ndnorth
another community
on Jul 18, 2013 at 6:09 am
ndnorth, another community
on Jul 18, 2013 at 6:09 am

Concerned,

you are not well informed. Palo Alto sold many schools and school sites in the eighties. That's why they now have a problem with overcrowding.
When I asked a board of Ed member in 1986 what would happen when enrollement increased her response was: let the then Board of Ed deal with it.


concerned
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 18, 2013 at 10:50 am
concerned, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 18, 2013 at 10:50 am

ndnorth:

Palo Alto may have sold some properties, but they have MANY more options to address growing enrollment than we currently do here in Southern San Mateo County. Palo Alto has the Cubberly High School property that they can reopen if enrollment increases warrant. A few years ago, they reopened the Terman Middle School property. They've also reopened some shuttered elementary campuses.


Hmmm
another community
on Jul 18, 2013 at 6:02 pm
Hmmm, another community
on Jul 18, 2013 at 6:02 pm

Duh, Peninsula Resident, I know where BH students go when it's time for high school. I was referring to earlier grades, making them actually part of the larger community. I'm sorry that you didn't understand that.


Norman
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 19, 2013 at 10:29 pm
Norman, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 19, 2013 at 10:29 pm

There are a few references in the above 'comments' which state that smaller high schools are preferable to big ones. I think that Bill Gates had this same philosphy and he funded it only to find out it wasn't true. No need to reinvent the wheel, expensively, so building 'up' should be done.


Read the legal report
Woodside: other
on Jul 22, 2013 at 12:51 pm
Read the legal report, Woodside: other
on Jul 22, 2013 at 12:51 pm

After reading the Lawyers' Committee report, I'm horrified that the district didn't change the assignments many years ago. What took them so long to document the blatent discrimination? : Web Link

For 30 years the district has left these kids to fend for themselves.
The only legal and logical solution is the EMP and EPA kids to be assigned to M-A, and for Portola and Los Lomitas to be assigned to Woodisde and apply for interdistrict transfer AFTER others that live closer are in, if there is space.

Then the west peninsula families can use their considerable resources towards improving Woodside HS. In 5-8 years, it will score on par with M-A today.


Start HS at 9am
Woodside: other
on Jul 22, 2013 at 1:01 pm
Start HS at 9am, Woodside: other
on Jul 22, 2013 at 1:01 pm

And why does Woodside and Carlemont still start classes at 8, despite all the research and changes at other HS's?

Who is behind the curve, and why aren't the parents fighting for reasonable change? Why not start at 8:45 or so, like other schools?

The business world generally starts at 9am, and some industries start earlier, but we expect our kids to start an hour before us? And then they get out way before parents are off-work, leaving extra un-supervised time, unless they are in sports or extracurriculars, which you can't do if you are being bussed 1-2 hours each day.

The people in charge are not looking out for the best interests of kids today. It shouldn't take a lawsuit to get our leaders to do the right thing. (just don't use congress as an example)


Dave Boyce
Registered user
Almanac staff writer
on Jul 22, 2013 at 2:19 pm
Dave Boyce, Almanac staff writer
Registered user
on Jul 22, 2013 at 2:19 pm

Woodside High does have a later start. I believe it's around 9 a.m. Woodside was the first of the four comprehensive high schools in the Sequoia district to shift to a later start, basing its decision on sleep research and the need for teens to have more than eight hours.

The early start alleged at Woodside in the Lawyer's Committee report is an error.

M-A used to start at 8 but now starts around 8:45.


peninsula resident
Menlo-Atherton High School
on Jul 22, 2013 at 5:21 pm
peninsula resident, Menlo-Atherton High School
on Jul 22, 2013 at 5:21 pm

Hmmm wrote:
> I was referring to earlier grades, making them actually part of the larger community. I'm sorry

Your apology is unnecessary, but accepted.

To your (now somewhat more clarified) point: as "concerned" mentioned, there is frequently little correlation between school district boundaries and city boundaries.

Just curious, why are you advocating removing Belle Haven from the Ravenswood School district? I could speculate on your reasons, but it seems more appropriate you speak for yourself.


Menlo Park parent
Menlo Park: other
on Jul 23, 2013 at 1:03 am
Menlo Park parent, Menlo Park: other
on Jul 23, 2013 at 1:03 am

I don't know why riding a bus for 5 or 11 miles is a big deal. I rode a bus to school for K-12. I wasn't damaged as a result.

Look at the private school kids. How far do Menlo School students drive each day? Is it an outrage that they drive 11 miles to get to school? Do they have no time for athletics or clubs after school because of the 11 mile drive?

It doesn't matter what school the EPA students attend. The harsh truth is that parents matter more than schools.


Hmmm
another community
on Jul 24, 2013 at 5:12 pm
Hmmm, another community
on Jul 24, 2013 at 5:12 pm

Peninsula- I've said many times here on this publication that Belle Haven schools should be part of Menlo, not EPA. Why not? Peter Carpenter has said similar things. These kids need to be enfranchised, not further disenfranchised, finishing off what the building on 101 did years ago. It's shameful.


Check your facts
Woodside: other
on Jul 25, 2013 at 3:12 pm
Check your facts, Woodside: other
on Jul 25, 2013 at 3:12 pm

Dave Boyce:

8am start at Woodside HS according to their website. See the link:

Web Link





funny
Woodside: other
on Jul 25, 2013 at 3:19 pm
funny, Woodside: other
on Jul 25, 2013 at 3:19 pm

Riding a bus for 11 miles in crazy silicon valley traffic takes a long time. I would guess the traffic when you were a teen was much lower.

And with traffic, your parents would have a more difficult time getting to your school events, or for you to take extra-curiculars, and then make the only bus home each evening.

The private school kids are more likely to have parents/support getting to and from school at all hours of the day.

As my spouse and I both work full-time (like 70% of america), it's already a challenge to get to many of the school events we should be at. It would be 3X as bad if the school was 11 miles and 45 minutes of traffic away.

Having a stay-at-home parent or ability to hire help is a huge luxury many would like.


Dave Boyce
Registered user
Almanac staff writer
on Jul 25, 2013 at 3:45 pm
Dave Boyce, Almanac staff writer
Registered user
on Jul 25, 2013 at 3:45 pm

Here's the way Woodside High changed its bell schedule in the spring of 2009:

For about 60% of students, those who do not need remedial classes, the school day started with second period at around 9 a.m.

Students who doing remedial work in math and English had a longer day. They started at 8 a.m.

I have no reason to believe that this has changed with a new principal.


M-A parent
Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Jul 25, 2013 at 4:40 pm
M-A parent, Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Jul 25, 2013 at 4:40 pm

M-A still starts at 7:50. They just call it zero period so now they can claim that first period doesn't start until after 9. Zero period at M-A is not just for remedial students. My son had to take zero period so he could fit in all his classes and still play in the band.

Two facts that continue to be overlooked in this discussion:

* There is a brand new high school sitting empty in East Palo Alto. It's a beautiful building. Maybe they don't want to open it because its enrollment would not reflect district averages? But I'll bet that families who live there would rather see their kids have shorter bus rides than attend school in a racially balanced environment.

& The real travesty is not making the kids ride buses. It's that students of color are systematically removed from the schools so that they won't depress standardized testing scores, thus creating all kind of bureaucratic trouble for the schools. It's easy: the school sends a monolingual parent a letter in English and the parent signs it, not realizing that the letter includes a clause in which the parent agrees to withdraw the child from school.

Having to get up early is the least of it. There are kids living on estates in Portola Valley who have to get up that early to make the trek across town to M-A!


Hmmm
another community
on Jul 25, 2013 at 6:05 pm
Hmmm, another community
on Jul 25, 2013 at 6:05 pm

M-A Parent - what is this letter about, specifically, that these parents receive?

Thank you!


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