LETTER: ‘Highline Public Schools must fix ‘Separate but Equal’ Policy’
[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a Letter to the Editor, written by a Reader. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The B-Town Blog nor its staff:]
Highline Schools must fix “Separate but Equal” Policy
Public schools can be our great American equalizer by providing all children the educational foundation to succeed in college, pursue careers and chase dreams. Unfortunately, not all schools are equal! Right here in the Highline School District, we have enormous disparity between neighborhood high schools.
I live in North Highline, one of two areas the Highline School District mandates a small-high-school-only policy and bars selecting one of the full-to-capacity comprehensive high schools at Highline and Mount Rainier. Families in the Mount Rainier and Highline service areas can attend their assigned traditional high school or any of the district’s small high schools.
Students in the Evergreen and Tyee service areas are required to attend 300-student, themed schools offering core classes and severely limited electives and clubs. Students in the Highline and Mount Rainier service areas can participate in the full range of courses unavailable at small schools, including a college preparatory curriculum, physical education program, Fine Arts, Music, vocational classes and a wide variety of electives and clubs.
Two years ago, Dr. Enfield was interviewed for The B-Town (Burien) Blog, and the new Superintendent immediately noted the district’s high school inequities. She said, “A kid who is assigned to Evergreen is going to potentially have a very different experience than a student assigned to Highline or Mount Rainier.” She goes on to say, “You have a traditional high school that, given its size and scale, can provide things that the smaller campuses can’t provide. That is where I struggle. We are assigning kids to schools and, by doing that, we are forcing them to make choices that perhaps they are not wanting to make – giving up band, giving up advanced placement classes because a smaller school just can’t provide those.”
Dr. Enfield identified this glaring district inequity immediately upon her arrival, and yet, two years later, Evergreen and Tyee service area families are still struggling to find high schools for their kids! While the district enrollment is booming, total enrollment at Evergreen, for example, has consistently dropped since the change to small schools…300 students less than in 2007. At the same time, Highline and Mount Rainier are bursting at the seams.
What are our options if we do not want to attend Evergreen? Expensive private school, apply for the few lottery spots allotted to our area for the IB program at Mount Rainier or at Aviation High School, find schools out of the district, or even move.
I drive a carpool every morning to the Vashon Ferry to drop off my son, joining what equals busloads of Highline kids who commute to Vashon Island so they can attain an excellent comprehensive education in the Vashon schools. I drive my other son to West Seattle High School, because the added time taking a ferry to and from Vashon would make it impossible for him to participate in swim team after school.
We are lucky to have found high school fits for our kids, but most North Highline and Tyee service area citizens cannot drive their kids all over the map at personal expense every day. Nor should they be expected to! This unfair policy based solely on one’s address has created hardship on our communities by limiting kids’ educational opportunities, and potentially, college and career success.
Superintendent Enfield defends the small-school-only policy as equitable by pointing out the high graduation rate at one of the eight small schools, which of course has nothing to do with equitable course and program opportunities. Board members Dorsey and Spear summarized at a school board meeting on April 1, 2015 that they thought Tyee and Evergreen were no good as traditional high schools, and they have no desire to address the high demand for traditional high school programs by possibly converting one of the small high school campuses to a traditional high school.
The message to Tyee and Evergreen families is, “It’s small high schools for you, or leave the district! No traditional high school available for your child in Highline! And thank you for your taxes.”
Incredibly, Highline’s Superintendent and School Board supports this discriminatory “Separate but Equal” policy! Live on the wrong side of the tracks in the Highline School District, and those families can expect secondary schools with stripped down programs, inequitable course and club opportunities, insufficient school funding, and inferior facilities.
A continuous stream of effected parents, students and community members show up and speak out for school and program equity at school board meetings and coffee chats. Highline leadership would rather ignore the howling than commit to the heavy lifting of providing high school equity across the district for ALL Highline students.
Superintendent Enfield and the Highline School Board recently rolled out a new, “Bold,” and “Visionary” Strategic Plan with “Equity” as one of its four pillars. Their first priority must be to dismantle this regressive and oppressive “Separate but Equal” secondary schools policy, and provide equitable high school programs for all district students.
– Sarah Gengler Dahl
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