It would also give the appearance, according to one board member, that some neighborhoods are getting favorable treatment in a process that shouldn't be political.
Last year, the school board approved the new attendance boundaries that shift eight regions of the city from one school to another. The Shoreline West neighborhood, for example, was shifted from Bubb Elementary to Landels Elementary, while the Whisman and Wagon Wheel neighborhoods were zoned for a new school on the old Slater campus on N. Whisman Road that has yet to be named.
But the district has yet to implement a policy for which families should be subject to the boundaries right away and which neighborhoods should get a delay or an outright exemption, grandfathering students in their current schools.
Willowgate resident David Levin told board members at the May 17 meeting that his son would be harmed by having to move from Landels to Theuerkauf, and that he and the rest of the 28 elementary school-age students in the neighborhood ought to be exempt from the boundary changes.
"My son deserves to finish out his remaining three years at Landels," he told board members. "I ask that you, the board, treat our neighborhood fairly in this grandfathering exemption process because, by all objective measures, we were not treated fairly when these boundaries were drawn."
The district convened a task force to figure out which families should be forced to move when the boundaries take effect and a majority of the members agreed, as of March, that fifth-grade students and their siblings should be grandfathered so older kids could finish out their last year of elementary school.
But with the decision now firmly in the hands of the school board, a majority of trustees quickly went to work creating a long list of possible exemptions — in some cases tailored for specific neighborhoods where residents have complained.
The first to break from the task force's earlier position was Ellen Wheeler, who said she was open to the idea of grandfathering for fourth-grade and fifth-grade students, as well as their siblings, in the 2019-20 school year. She also warmed up to the idea that students being moved out of lower-enrollment schools like Monta Loma and Castro shouldn't be subject to the boundary changes either because they aren't putting pressure on the crowded campuses. More than 250 students could be eligible for an exemption under these guidelines, according to district data.
Wheeler said she was sympathetic to Levin's concerns and struggled to reverse-engineer a grandfathering policy that would only affect the Willowgate neighborhood, effectively giving a special exemption to the region of the city. She suggested a "buffer" zone based on distance, giving exemptions to Willowgate families who live closer to Landels, but Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph warned that would cause several recently rezoned neighborhoods to split in half.
Board member Greg Coladonato suggested a complicated system based on traffic, and how many major thoroughfares families would need to cross to get to school. As Rudolph inquired about each affected neighborhood, Coladonato gave a specific reason for why it should or shouldn't receive his traffic-oriented exemption.
Parts of Shoreline West zoned for Landels have to cross a major thoroughfare, Shoreline Boulevard, to get to Landels, but Coladonato said they wouldn't be eligible for the exemption because the neighborhood's representatives wanted to go to Landels instead of the nearby Castro Elementary. Children in the Castro City neighborhood being re-zoned from Monta Loma to Castro would not be exempt, Coladonato said, because there is a "hierarchy" of thoroughfares and the Caltrain tracks are "bigger" than busy streets.
Board member Jose Gutierrez argued that the school board needs to treat the entire district equally rather than showing favoritism and carving out special status for any area in particular, but quickly followed up by saying Willowgate should be exempt.
"I don't really look at it as giving them preference over everyone else, because that's not what the board does, but the board is realistic about being equitable and fair to everyone in general," he said.
The only trustee who stood by the task force's original, limited exemptions was board member Tamara Wilson, who was absent but submitted her comments ahead of time. She wrote that she was not interested in special treatment of certain neighborhoods, and that it would be impossible to justify the well-being of one child over another.
"I do not support any piecemeal plan to give preferential treatment to one area over the other — to do so will set a precedent making all future boundary changes impossible," Wilson wrote.
Wilson, the only board member with a child who would be affected by the school boundary changes, said it would be "short-sighted" to disregard the task force's recommendations because of favoritism or political gain, and that the school board has a track record of ignoring "countless" task force recommendations.
"We are not in the business of gerrymandering to achieve the ends of the loudest group in the room," she wrote. "This is not good governance."
Board members are tentatively scheduled to approve grandfathering policies at the June 14 board meeting.
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