Drawing Boundaries in Arlington

Drawing Boundaries in Arlington

Middle school boundaries reignite busing questions.

New Arlington middle school boundaries proposal.

New Arlington middle school boundaries proposal. Photo contributed

The newly approved middle school boundaries were passed unanimously at the Dec. 14 School Board meeting, but revealed deep and recurring divisions on the board when it comes to redistricting.

Throughout the community feedback to the proposed boundaries, one of the repeated concerns has been the lack of diversity and unevenly distributed student populations in the new redistricting plan. Williamsburg Middle School, 79 percent white, will be under capacity in 2022, while other schools will be at capacities up to 111 percent. During the discussions about the new boundaries, County Board member Reid Goldstein noted that he had tried to put together a motion to spread the student overpopulation and diversity more evenly across the schools but that it had not gotten support from fellow School Board members.

“I don’t like Williamsburg set at 89 percent of capacity and resulting demographics there,” said Goldstein. “I understand the attachment to walkability, connection with peer cohorts, and neighborhood cohesion. All the same issues I had as a parent, and every parent does, I get it. However, I can’t build a boundary plan based on what works well for each student or family, have to take top-down approach.”

Goldstein expressed concerns that the the new boundaries would deepen divisions in Arlington Public Schools.

“I fear the dangerous precedent being set today, one that has real implications for community equity and instructional quality,” said Goldstein. “Geographic placement and demographics of schools mitigate against evenly distributed boundary system … if we leave Williamsburg that far under capacity, in every future change will have to contend with neighborhoods and school communities saying ‘leave us under capacity.’”

But other School Board members said Goldstein’s plans to shift populations could hinder students.

“We are pursuing the best decision that makes sense now and allowing ourselves flexibility to make additional adjustments and refinements moving forward,” said School Board member James Lander. “Busing children out of their community isn’t advantageous to academic excellence. Students tend to do better in environments where they feel safe and supported. We want that for all our schools, but that isn’t always on the other side of town.”

School Board member Tannia Talento said that she philosophically disagreed with Goldstein, and pointed to disadvantages that would hit families bused to other parts of the county to balance the demographics. Talento noted that public transportation was not as developed in the areas around Williamsburg Middle School, which could make it a challenge for low income parents to retrieve their children from school if required.

The County Board unanimously approved the new middle school boundaries, which will go into effect for the Fall 2019 school year.