School Boundaries Often Lines in the Sand

Joel Rubin, Los Angeles Times, Apr. 25

In the fast-growing suburbs of Southern California, where few things matter more to parents than their schools, the lines that separate attendance areas often double as boundaries of class and culture, race and ethnicity.

District administrators tinker with them at their peril.

Consider the case of the Capistrano Unified School District, in south Orange County, where some parents are angrily protesting the coming transfer of their children to a gleaming new $67-million high school.

Capistrano parents and students lament the breaking of personal bonds and family traditions that can come with changing schools. They worry about trading a high-achieving school for one with no track record.

“It’s a different place—a whole different element out there,” said Catrina Crawford, who fought the plan to send her children to the new school, which will draw from disparate neighborhoods in the sprawling district, including less affluent, primarily Latino areas.

“It’s like we’re sending our kids to another state. They’re going to go to school with kids from families we don’t know—a lot of them will be from lower-income and single-parent homes.”

“We’re not rancheros,” agreed another mother, Vickie Patterson, using the Spanish word for rancher.

Capistrano Unified, in which poorer Latino immigrant neighborhoods are surrounded by more affluent beach communities and housing developments, illustrates how growth has forced school districts to navigate greater ethnic and economic diversity in the hallways of newly built schools, educators say.

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The new boundaries will bring students from distinct communities together at the new high school. About a third of the 2,200 students at San Juan Hills High will be from Latino families, many of them immigrants and English learners living in low-income apartments. To achieve a balance and fill the school to capacity, Fleming will pull in students from Capistrano Beach and Ladera Ranch, two wealthier neighborhoods in surrounding cities.

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With district projections that more than a third of students at San Juan Hills would be Latino, a website the group posted warned parents that “the high ethnic ratios would ensure a larger percentage of children from San Juan Capistrano who are at risk of failure and who do not perform well on standardized testing would attend” the new school.

It was a scenario, the parent group wrote, that would harm students’ chances of college admission and drag down property values in the development, where the cheapest condominiums cost $400,000 and houses run as high as $1.8 million.

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