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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  K-12 education

Spokane Public Schools moves forward on deciding which students can stay put once it redraws boundaries

UPDATED: Wed., Feb. 17, 2021

The Spokane Public Schools building.   (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)
The Spokane Public Schools building.  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)

In a decision that could affect thousands of children and their families, the Spokane Public Schools board gave preliminary approval Wednesday night to a plan that limits how long children will be able to remain at their current building if boundary changes place them in another school.

In most cases, that limit will be one year.

The issue is known as “Legacy,” or grandfathering – whether some children will be allowed to continue at their current building even if boundary changes place them in another school.

Based on Wednesday’s conversations, the district will move forward with its recommendation for “rising” students, that is, those who are about to enter a given grade at the time of the boundary change.

The decision – expected to be finalized next month – is significant.

Up to 6% of the district’s 30,000 students could be affected by boundary changes that will take effect at the start of the 2022-23 school year, when the district adds two of its three new middle schools.

The board is expected to receive final recommendations in mid-April.

Here’s how the proposal would work.

• High school: Rising sophomores, juniors and seniors assigned to a new high school can request Legacy status and remain at their current school through graduation. However, incoming students can request a different high school through the Choice process.

• Middle school: All will finish at their current school. Incoming sixth- and seventh-graders will be assigned to their new middle schools, but can request to Choice into a different middle school. However, during the boundary transition year, the three new middle schools will open with only grades 6 and 7 for the first year, while current middle schools will serve grades 6 through 8.

• Elementary school: Rising fifth-graders will be allowed to finish at their current schools, if they request to do so. First- through fourth-graders, along with kindergartners will not have legacy status, but may request to remain at current school through the Choice process. Younger siblings of the fifth-grader would otherwise need to stay put.

Staff and consultants also presented an option that would allow two grade levels to be grandfathered at their current schools. However, they pointed out that transportation costs would be substantially higher and not entirely subsidized by the state.

Board members agreed, and all assented to the district’s recommendation.

Currently the district has no written policy or procedure that covers legacy and student assignment.

Without such a policy, staffers warned Wednesday, the district could face hundreds or thousands of appeals from families whose children were being moved to other schools.

That, in turn, could force more-frequent boundary changes as individual school attendance remained unbalanced.

This new policy and procedure will be soon shared with the community as part of the input and feedback process for proposed boundary changes.

The process would be complete in the fall of 2023, when a third middle school is completed adjacent to Mullan Road Elementary School.

The district hasn’t undertaken a comprehensive boundary change since 1982, when it moved ninth-graders to high schools; that’s partly because the process is complex and fraught with controversy.

“There will be people who will not be happy,” Harium Martin-Morris, a consultant and former Seattle Public Schools board member, told board members.

Since January 2020, a boundary review committee has held 14 meetings.

Its aim, according to district documents, “is to support neighborhood communities by developing attendance boundaries” that support walkability, recognize natural and artificial boundaries and keep neighborhoods together.”

Those goals appear to be directed toward keeping cohesive neighborhoods around elementary schools.

At the same time, the district hopes that “each school in the district should be a high-quality school offering attractive programming and supporting student achievement.”

To level the socioeconomic differences between neighborhoods, the committee might consider more drastic changes in the middle schools and high schools.

For example, the North Side will eventually have six middle schools feeding into three high schools: Rogers, North Central and Shadle Park.

Currently, some students from distant Five Mile are bused to North Central. With the addition of a new middle school on the current Albi Stadium site, the committee could recommend a more contiguous approach and send those students (along with those from Glover) to Shadle Park.

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