‘White Flight’ in Boulder

Berny Morson, Rocky Mountain News (Denver), Dec. 19, 2005

BOULDER—The neighborhood around Columbine Elementary School is 87 percent Anglo. But enrollment numbers indicate that many neighborhood kids are going elsewhere. This year, the school in northeast Boulder is 82 percent Hispanic.

“Most of the parents who are involved in this would not say they were (engaged in) ‘white flight’—they were simply choosing options that were better for their children,” says Julie Phillips, who stepped down in November as Boulder school board president.

But Richard Garcia, a member of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education who put six children through Boulder schools, is more blunt:

“My feeling is the problem is racism,” Garcia says. “I think people are leaving Columbine because they don’t like to be with brown kids. I know I’m going to get killed because I said that, but I’m going to call it as I see it.”

‘Tweaking with choice’

Under Colorado law, parents have wide latitude in selecting among schools within a district, or even in other districts, to enroll their children.

In Boulder, Anglo parents are choosing schools other than Columbine.

Similar patterns are emerging in south Boulder and Lafayette, which is part of the Boulder district. The district’s two bilingual schools are lopsidedly Hispanic.

“A lot of the flight on the surface is because of the programs that parents want their kids to go to. But underneath at some schools, when a percentage of minority kids or poor kids gets to a certain level, people have not wanted to put their children (there),” says Superintendent George Garcia, who is not related to Richard Garcia.

Garcia says the district can’t do anything about the state’s open enrollment law, but a citizen task force in June suggested several strategies to disperse the district’s students more equitably.

That could include enrollment targets for minorities and economically disadvantaged students at Boulder schools. The targets would be achieved through enrollment caps and preferences.

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The increasing segregation of Boulder schools was highlighted in a 2000 study by University of Colorado education school professors Kenneth Howe and Margaret Eisenhart.

“Whites are disproportionately requesting open enrollment in schools with high test scores; Latinos are disproportionately requesting open enrollment in bilingual schools,” Howe and Eisenhart wrote.

Still unclear is whether attendance patterns are a factor in the low test scores of Hispanic students. Boulder has the widest gap in the metro area between scores of Anglo and Hispanic students on state achievement tests.

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At Columbine, Hispanic kids and poor kids are mostly the same. Hispanics were 82.9 percent of the students in 2004-05, while 83.2 percent of the school’s students were eligible for free or reduced-cost lunch.

Columbine received a rating of low—one step above unsatisfactory—on state school report cards issued Dec. 6. Three nearby, mostly Anglo, schools were rated average, high and excellent.

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