On KALW, Callers Criticize School District for Student Placements

San Francisco Public Press
 — Apr 1 2015 - 8:48am

Last week, local radio station KALW explored the findings of our most recent special report about the increasing segregation in San Francisco’s public schools, on the “Your Call” morning show with host Rose Aguilar.

Jeremy Adam Smith, who led our special report, appeared on the show as part of a panel that explored the complex mechanics and consequences of the district’s system for assigning students to schools. The system’s stated goal is to increase school diversity, and to achieve that it takes into account many factors in addition to parent preference.

Frustrated parents called in to the show to object to where the system had placed their children. Two said they lived in the Sunset neighborhood in the city’s west, but the district assigned them to John O’Connell High School in the Mission District, which will result in commutes as long as an hour and a half each way.

Aside from considerably stretching his daughter’s school day, a caller who gave his name as Bruce said he worried about her safety during the bus rides.

Students who get assigned to schools across town, and whose parents cannot drive them, typically must rely on public transit because school buses are few. The district downsized its fleet from 44 to 25 buses in 2011-12 in response to budget cuts, Smith said. For many students, that creates a dilemma between attending their preferred school far away or a lower-performing school near home, as we reported.

Bruce, who said he is white, said Asian and Latino children he knows got into their preferred schools. He questioned whether the district was spreading white children across the city’s schools, “to help even out disparity.”

Guest Orla O’Keeffe, executive director of policy and operations for the San Francisco Unified School District, responded by saying that that was not the district’s policy.

For those who fail initially to get their preferred schools, the district’s system gives advantages to parents who have the spare time and resources to appeal. “There’s a second round, there’s waiting lists,” Smith said, but participating in the process is “bandwidth-consuming.”

Parents with less money tend to have less time as well. Guest Allison Briscoe-Smith, adjunct professor at the Write Institute in Berkeley, said increasing segregation in San Francisco’s public schools may reflect the city’s widening income inequality.

“The school issues are the canary in the coal mine,” she said.