Recently approved school boundary changes have been a source of anxiety and controversy for many District parents. And two leading mayoral candidates have pushed to slow or restart the process across the city.
But new polling numbers show that a majority of D.C. residents support the plan, which aims to bring coherence and predictability to feeder patterns last overhauled 40 years ago.
More than half of the city’s registered voters — 56 percent — say they “generally support” the plan to change “where students can attend traditional public schools and when children are able to attend schools outside their boundaries,” according to the results of an NBC4/Washington Post/Marist poll released this week.
“I like lots of things in the plan,” said Sarah Sorscher, a mother of two young children who lives in Ward 1 and wants to support her neighborhood schools. Most of all, she likes that the plan includes a stand-alone middle school nearby that her children could eventually attend. “But right now we are in limbo,” she said.
Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) adopted the plan in August, capping a contentious 10-month citywide process. Within a week, the mayoral candidates aiming to replace Gray revived the debate.
D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser (Ward 4), the Democratic nominee, said she opposed the plan and would restart the process. David Catania, an at-large council member who is running for mayor as an independent, said he would seek to delay its implementation for one year.
Both candidates have said it’s not fair to reassign families to lower-performing schools.
Independent candidate Carol Schwartz has said she would seek to make some changes to the plan but would not start over from scratch.
Hot spots of opposition remain across the city, particularly in some Ward 4 neighborhoods that were previously zoned into Alice Deal Middle School and Woodrow Wilson High School, two of the city’s most-crowded and sought-after schools. Many residents also have been wary of changes to the rules governing out-of-boundary lotteries, which many families have relied on to secure better school options.
Absalom Jordan, chairman of the Ward 8 Education Council, said the main message he heard from residents east of the river at boundaries meetings “was to ensure you had quality schools in all wards before you moved to change the boundaries.”
But among voters in general who were surveyed, majority support was fairly consistent, including among different racial groups, income levels and ages and across different parts of the city.
One exception was in wards 2 and 3, where slightly less than half of adults surveyed — 48 percent — said they support the plan. There, 19 percent oppose the plan and 33 percent are unsure.
Results were not broken down to reflect the views of parents with school-age children, who are most directly affected.
An early proposal in the spring that would have replaced neighborhood schools with a citywide lottery ignited strong opposition from parents in Northwest who chose to buy homes there specifically for the access they provided to high-performing schools.
Lissy Melia, a mother of two, petitioned against the first proposal, which came out soon after she and her husband drained their financial resources to buy a house in the Janney Elementary School district in Upper Northwest.
Later proposals reaffirmed a system of neighborhood schools, and sentiment changed, she said.
“Once they took the citywide lottery part out of it, a lot of people simmered down,” she said.
City officials already are implementing the new boundaries, sending maps and letters home to parents at each school describing the changes and how they will be phased in. They also are uploading the new boundaries into the online lottery system, which will open Dec. 15.
The NBC4/Washington Post/Marist poll was conducted Sept. 14 to Sept. 16 among a random sample of 1,249 D.C. adults reached on conventional and cellular phones. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points overall and for the sample of 1,070 registered voters.