Since we established the Arlington NAACP Education Committee last year, we have been mired in myriad equity battles within Arlington Public Schools (APS). Most recently, we have heard from a number of Arlington Traditional School (ATS) families of color, who will be unduly burdened by the proposed move to McKinley Elementary, where public transportation is less accessible. Given that these families experience economic constraints as well as transportation challenges, the move will make it much harder for them to access the school for parent meetings and community events. ATS is one of APS’s “choice” schools to which parents must apply, and students gain entry by a double-blind lottery. ATS is a county-wide school that includes two Virginia Preschool Initiative classes and a Multi-Intervention Program for Students With Autism class. Many of these students, some as young as 4 years old, wake up at 6:30 a.m. to get to school by 8 a.m. Under the proposed plan, these young children would need to wake up even earlier to be bused from the southern tip of Arlington to the farthest northwest section of Arlington bordering Falls Church. Some parents told us they would be forced to withdraw their children from ATS if the school is moved farther northwest.
ATS is a majority-minority, two-time National Blue Ribbon school with eight Governor’s Awards and two Virginia School Board of Education awards for educational excellence, and has successfully closed the achievement gap among all demographics: black, Hispanic, Asian, white, English learners, economically disadvantaged and students with disabilities. ATS leadership has accomplished this level of success with a population of 27 percent English learners representing 22 languages and 30 countries, 30 percent of the students receiving free and reduced-price meals, and 11.5 percent of students with disabilities who consistently outperform their peers across APS. ATS has figured out how to close the gaps in academic achievement within its own school, which APS writ large has been unable to do.
To now make ATS even less accessible to our most vulnerable students — who need stability and the instructional quality the school offers — is to pull the academic rug of achievement out from under them, which will have a detrimental and devastating impact on those families, the ATS community and APS. Any reduction in disadvantaged families’ access to this high-performing school is widening the opportunity gap. Moving the school without having taken into account the impact on families least able to adapt to the change is likely to have unintended consequences that reach beyond the district’s immediate need to provide additional seats. We cautioned the school board to give significant consideration to the adverse and inequitable impact this move will have on these and other families. Yet, at the Feb. 6 school board meeting, the board voted 4 to 1 for a series of school moves that could potentially increase segregation.
As we have become accustomed, the equity battle continues.