RECONFIGURING SCHOOL boundaries, no matter where or how it is conducted, is an anguishing process. Change can be hard, never more so than when it affects your children and their future. The controversy surrounding the District’s efforts to redraw school lines is not surprising. Even if the plan hadn’t gotten caught up in the politics of a mayoral election, there was certain to be virulent opposition.
We would hope, though, that once the dust settles, both officials and residents will recognize the need for adjustments. Efforts to upend a plan that is the result of a painstaking public process is likely to cause disruption the city and its public schools can ill-afford.
Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) is taking steps to implement in the 2015-2016 school year a school assignment plan developed over a 10-month period by a special advisory committee. The plan, the first updating of boundaries in more than 40 years, would be phased in with generous protections for current students and their younger siblings. Nonetheless, there is a significant redrawing of boundaries to correct long-standing imbalances in enrollment, and that means reassignment of new students, in some cases from higher-performing schools to lower-performing ones.
We understand the angst of parents that their children could be academically shortchanged but, as school activist Natalie Wexler pointed out in thoughtful posts on GreaterGreaterWashington.org, some of the worries may be overblown. “Your new school may be better than you think,” she wrote in urging parents not only to visit the new schools but also to band together with other parents in the same situation to build a positive school community.
Mr. Gray is right that the city has too long put off these difficult decisions. Since he is set to leave office, he is well situated to take the heat. “No more punting,” he said. Unfortunately, some candidates for mayor don’t see it that way. Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) said he would seek to delay implementation of the plan, while Democratic nominee and Ward 4 council member Muriel Bowser was even more strident, with a vow to undo it. More measured was former council member Carol Schwartz, who recognized the need for change but suggested the plan might need revising.
No doubt the desire not to alienate motivated voters is at play, but those considerations should take a back seat to the best interests of the largest possible number of students. If the candidates want to be helpful, they should take up Mr. Gray on his offer to consider any substantative refinements and cool the campaign rhetoric.