By Diane Lederman
October 27, 2009
AMHERST – While the School Committee is scheduled to vote Tuesday night on the redistricting of elementary schools for next year, a group of parents upset with the proposal has scheduled a protest for Tuesday afternoon on the Town Common.
A committee has been working on a range of plans to redistrict the elementary schools for next year when Marks Meadow Elementary School – one of four town elementary schools – is scheduled to close. The committee has held two public forums and met and revised various maps to accommodate concerns.
Last week, the committee studied six proposed maps and the School Committee will likely consider two of those plans.
The School Committee in May voted to close Marks Meadow at the end of the 2009-10 school year to save money and then redistrict in a way that there would be an equal number of children receiving free or reduced lunches at the three remaining schools. Currently Crocker Farm has the largest number of students receiving free and reduced lunches.
But parents have organized the march to protest redistricting and the closing of Marks Meadow School, stating in an e-mail to the community that the committee’s decision “does not reflect the needs of our children nor their communities. We believe their plan will be harmful and divisive to the multicultural fabric of our town.
“We believe this plan will create animosity between those that struggle economically and those of a more privileged community. We don’t feel it is fair to bus children to new schools within the Amherst school system just because they qualify for free or reduced lunch. Furthermore, we are not convinced that moving our children to new schools will improve the quality of their education. We feel that forced busing of low-income, multicultural-multilingual children is offensive,” the e-mail states.
But on her School Committee blog, member Catherine A Sanderson refuted the charges. Under any redistricting plan, she wrote, “the majority of kids on free or reduced lunch will, in fact, attend the exact same school they attend right now, as will the majority of kids not on free or reduced lunch.”
Parents protesting the redistricting don’t believe “dispersing children who qualify for free or reduced lunch or are multicultural or multilingual into more affluent schools will improve test schools or their abilities to learn.”
But Sanderson, also a psychology professor at Amherst College, stated that a “body of well-established research indicates that low-income children who attend schools in which more then 40 percent of the children are on free/reduced lunch do not perform as well as those who attend schools with a smaller proportion of students on free/reduced lunch.”
School Committee Chairman Andrew M. Churchill said the committee “can’t afford not to close Marks Meadow.”
“We’ve been thinking about the inequities for a number of years,” he said. “It’s not like we’re a big city (traveling) huge distances.” Some students might be bused four or five miles, he said.
The committee needs to make a decision now because the budget needs to be done for January this year. The administration needs to have the districts set up to seek request for proposals from a transportation company.
The protest is slated for 4 p.m. today with the School Committee meeting slated for 7 p.m. at the Amherst Regional High School.
My Goal in Blogging
I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.