A plan to redraw the boundaries of most of Alexandria's dozen elementary schools is drawing the ire of some parents who say it benefits the school system's white students over its minority and special education pupils.
Angry parents jammed a meeting room Wednesday night where the city's nine-member School Board approved the plan by a vote of 7 to 2. The parents accused the board of "resegregating" the 5,900-pupil elementary system by leaving largely untouched the boundaries of Douglas MacArthur, the elementary school with the city's largest percentage of white children, but shifting boundaries of several schools where most students are black and Hispanic.
Under the plan, known as the 15-R-1 alternative, the board also voted to transfer three special-education programs scattered across the city to Jefferson Houston Elementary School in Old Town.
"They moved Hispanic children, black children and disabled children in order to keep existing school boundaries for children who are none of the above," said Beth Stephens, who is white and whose son will shift schools from Maury Elementary in the city's affluent Rosemont area to Jefferson Houston in 2000.
But board members rejected such charges, accusing critics of using "inflammatory statements" to draw attention to themselves. Board members said they are trying to accommodate a booming school population, where 78 percent of elementary school students are members of minority groups and 22 percent are non-Hispanic whites.
"Everything we have done in this process is an attempt to alleviate overcrowding and to put ourselves into the position for growth in the future," said board Chairman Stephen J. Kenealy.
"The issue of taking race solely into account in making any of these moves is untrue."
School boundary issues are nearly always touchy, but they are especially volatile in Alexandria, where the school system has shifted from largely white in the 1970s to mostly black and Hispanic. The new plan was prompted by a 20 percent growth in the city's elementary school population since 1993, mostly in the city's West End and northeast section. To relieve crowding, a new elementary school is scheduled to open in the Cameron Station area in the fall of 2000.
The plan also will uncouple two elementary schools in the east end--Maury and Lyles-Crouch--which were paired about 30 years ago when the city's schools were desegregated.
Maury, currently for kindergartners through second-graders, will become a school for kindergarten through fifth grade. Lyles-Crouch, which took Maury's students when they entered third grade, will become a K-5 "traditional" school, with features such as student uniforms.
Board members said the plan will ease crowding in the schools in the West End with the highest number of minority children. About 500 children who live on the western edge of the city--who now are bused to school in the eastern portion--will be able to attend school closer to their homes.
The plan also has been criticized by some parents because of the shift of special-education programs to Jefferson Houston. But board members noted that only about two dozen students out of the special-education population of 1,600 will be affected by the move.