Thursday, June 21, 2018

Pasco parent files more complaints against district attendance zone changes

Still dissatisfied with the process and the results, Pasco County parent Jim Stanley has submitted a new set of challenges to the school district's attendance zone revisions.

For this round, Stanley focused on federal concerns, contending the School Board inappropriately considered students' race and socioeconomic status when redrawing the west-side middle and high school boundaries. His filings with the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights and Inspector General came a week after the board adopted its latest map, which closely aligned with another that had been voided in court over open meetings law violations.

Stanley, who has fought the district's rezoning efforts on several fronts for nearly two years, alleges that the district "did not appear to consider an approach that did not rely on the race of individual students in their rezoning process, nor did they provide any, and in so doing, violated the law."

He further contends that the district deliberately tried to maintain a high level of low-income students in Anclote High, refusing to assign middle-income children there, in order to keep steady the school's Title I funding. That grant supports programs for low-income children.

District staff initially recommended shifting students from the west end of the Mitchell High zone into Anclote, but superintendent Kurt Browning dropped that part of the plan.

"Title I funding should be a way to help schools and school districts with high populations of low-income families to provide a high quality education," Stanley explained via email. "But keeping low-income families segregated into a school specifically to continue that revenue stream strikes me as an abuse of the program. It also strikes me as discriminatory. We don't segregate schools by race and we shouldn't segregate them by their income levels either."

During the planning process, district officials do discuss such issues as keeping demographic balance within a student body. They distribute spreadsheets detailing how the percentage of minority students, poor students, students with special needs and other groupings might change with shifts in attendance zones.

They also have talked about whether significant alterations in the income level of the population might affect the revenue that supports programs in the schools.

School Board attorney Dennis Alfonso, who had not seen Stanley's complaints, said the district needs to consider some of those details because it remains under court observation for its unitary status for decades old segregation cases.

"When we looked at those plans, we looked at them as far as, do we have any obligations under federal law," Alfonso said. Staff "looked at all those factors and acted within the parameters of both policy and federal law."

He said he could not comment on specifics of the latest challenges, because he did not know the exact nature of the complaints. But he continued to suggest that Stanley's continued battle against the board's rezoning effort ignores the underlying fact that state law empowers school boards to assign students to schools.

When it's all boiled down, Alfonso said, Stanley seems to simply disagree with the way the district and board used its discretion to make a decision.

The federal government does not comment on such allegations. It takes complaints under advisement, investigates them if it determines it has jurisdiction, and reports findings after it has completed its work.

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