Prince William County school officials announced Tuesday that a vote on new boundaries for the 12th high school will be delayed so they have time to respond to an inquiry from the Department of Justice about the boundary-setting process and the projected demographic changes it would cause.
The school board vote, which was scheduled for June 4, will be pushed to September. It’s the second time the vote has been delayed amid a contentious boundary-setting process that followed a heated debate over construction plans for the school.
“Staff have been working hard to develop boundaries that are equitable and effective in serving student needs, and responsive to community feedback,” said School Board Chairman Milton C. Johns (At Large) in a statement. “If the DOJ needs more information to understand how we are doing that, we are happy to provide it.”
School officials said that the delay would not affect the construction or the school’s anticipated opening in September 2016.
The Justice Department’s request for information came in a June 2 letter to school board counsel, following a complaint that district officials said they have not seen.
The letter, which comes from the Educational Opportunities Section of the Civil Rights division of the Justice Department, noted that the new school’s proposed boundaries would create a school with a projected enrollment of 37 percent minority students while some of the surrounding schools have minority enrollments that range from 50 to 90 percent. It noted that the proposal calls for a noncontiguous boundary and appears to assign some students to a high school that is not the closest one to their homes.
The letter asked the school district to provide additional information to “ensure its compliance with federal civil rights laws.” It listed 17 requests for information or documents, including detailed descriptions of its process for establishing the initial boundary recommendations; any changes that have been made; the minutes of public meetings related to the boundaries; the names of any advisers, officials and consultants involved in the process; and projected impacts on bus routes and demographics.
The letter also asked for a description of any amenities that the high school is expected to provide other than ordinary classrooms.
The design of the 12th high school became a source of controversy early on, in large part because the plans included a swimming pool. Many county residents called the $97.9 million school a symbol of wasteful spending. The decision to build the school with the pool was followed by scrutiny over who would be able to attend the state-of-the art facility.