Updated: 12:30 a.m. Oct. 11:
The Greenwich Board of Education declined to discuss any reaction to state Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor’s decision that the town’s two racially imbalanced schools will not be designated as “unique schools.”
While the eight-member board as well as School Superintendent William McKersie declined to discuss the letter at the Oct. 10 meeting, several Greenwich parents took nearly a half-hour to urge the board to pursue options to challenge the state, including legal action.
Prior to the meeting at Central Middle School, McKersie said he wasn’t surprised by Pryor’s letter but deferred further comment to the board.
Board Chair Leslie Moriarty said the board plans to discuss the issue at its Oct. 24 meeting. If Hamilton Avenue and New Lebanon schools were deemed unique schools, they then would be exempt from state regulations mandating racial balance for the school’s student population.
“I am very encouraged by the letter that clearly shows the commissioner does not have legal authority to alter the definition (of unique schools),” North Street School parent Ben Bianco. He added, “The letter is noticeably absent of legal citation.”
Parent Kevin Foley said that historically, the state has pursued 22 of the state’s 28 school districts deemed as large districts — those with more than 1,500 students —for having racially imbalanced schools. “These 22 districts have been primary targets of the state … it’s not possible to balance race long term.” Foley also said the district could play a waiting game to see whether the state imposes orders to redistrict — an option the board took off the table in September.
Foley added, “It is unlikely we will ever racially balance our district in the long term…until this antiquated law is overturned, we will go through this every 3 to 5 years.”
Bianco also provided a copy of an email sent to Pryor
earlier Thursday, in which he wrote, “ If you do not agree with [the Greenwich
DoE’s position on Unique Schools], please explain your reasoning and the legal
basis for your viewpoint.” Bianco continued, “The letter does not cite any law, rule, statute,
judicial opinion or even internal stateCT DoE documentation. As such, your
letter may be properly treated as a tacit admission that the CT DoE has no legal
basis for its attempt to alter the plain meaning of Unique Schools.”
And Foley repeated the charge, “ We need to challenge the state … your only responsibility is to submit a plan …” and force the state to make a decision.
Updated: 3:06 p.m., Oct. 10:
Here is the text of state Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor's letter to Greenwich Board of Education Chair Leslie Moriarty:
I am writing in response to your inquiry surrounding the application of the “unique school” status to New Lebanon and Hamilton Avenue Schools in Greenwich, which are partial intradistrict magnet schools. The regulations define “unique school” as including an interdistrict or intradistrict magnet school. The rationale behind allowing for the exclusion of unique schools is that these schools do not have control over the racial composition of their student populations and would not be able to provide a remedy for racial imbalance.
The statutes do not specifically define the term “intradistrict magnet school.” The concept of an intradistrict magnet is that the school offers a specialized program tht is designed to draw students from all areas of the district. When conducting the annual racial imbalance report, certain schools are automatically excluded from the list as being “unique schools.” Such schools do not appear on the state Department of Education’s racial imbalance report. These unique schools include the charter schools, the technical high schools, alternative schools, special education facilities, interdistrict magnet schools, and intradistrict magnets that allow for full voluntary enrollment (such as the magnet schools existing in the Hartford and New Haven School districts.) Therefore, in order to be automatically excluded from the racial imbalance requirements for the “intradistrict” category of “unique schools,” such school must provide for full voluntary enrollment, meaning tht the school must draw its students from a district-wide applicant pool rather than drawing students from the school’s defined attendance zone. It is my understanding that the vast majority of the students attending both Hamilton Avenue and New Lebanon Schools are assigned based upon their residency in the attendance zone for each school.
While the regulations also allow for the Commissioner to designate a school as a “unique school,” your schools have not been so designated by previous Commissioners. If you were to request such designation going forward, I would expect your schools to meet a high standard with respect to voluntary enrollment and to be part of a coherent and compelling district plan before, in consultation with the State Board of Education, making such a designation.
Thank you for your continued commitment to this process and your pursuit of excellent educational opportunities for all of Greenwich’s students.
Original post: 2:15 p.m.
The state education commissioner has rejected Greenwich Public Schools' request that Hamilton Avenue and New Lebanon elementary schools be designated as "unique" schools and therefore exempt from state racial balance regulations.
In an Oct. 8 letter received Thursday, Oct. 10, Board of Education Chair Leslie Moriarty and Schools Superintendent William McKersie were told by Commissioner Stefan Pryor, the schools were not eligible for the unique status because students attending New Leb and Ham Ave are voluntarily enrolled from the attendance zones of those schools, rather than from throughout the district. The two schools are considered intradistrict magnet schools.
The board of education already was scheduled to meet Thursday, Oct. 10 at 7 p.m. to discuss how to better use the district's elementary schools, some of which are or will be overcrowded, while others are under-utilized. The board of education has been cited by the state for having a high concentration of minority students in the two schools, a population that is reflective of the families living in those attendance zones.
At a public forum Monday, Oct. 7, Moriarty and other board members said that if they received a response from Pryor before Thursday's meeting, they would not have enough time to review the letter and make a decision on how the district should proceed in balancing the racial makeup of students attending New Leb and Ham Ave.
Pryor's letter can be viewed in the PDF below or via this link to the board of ed's website.
Greenwich Patch will have more details on the commissioner's letter and district officials' reaction as they become available.