Magnet Rules May Change

Wichita Eagle, January 5, 2010

Starting as soon as 2011, where your family lives or how much money you make could affect your child’s chances of attending a Wichita magnet school.

School leaders and residents who are studying ways to avoid one-race schools in the wake of the end of busing for integration want to make diversity a top priority of all magnet schools.

This could mean most students wouldn’t be chosen at random, as they are now. Family income or address could be factored into the selection process.

The magnet school application process will remain the same for next school year. The Choices Fair, where families can learn more about magnet programs, is Jan. 12 at the Century II Exhibition Hall.

But within the next two months, school board members could start discussing how to redefine magnet schools to attract diverse student populations.

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In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional to assign students to schools based on race. This left Wichita and school districts nationwide scrambling to dismantle strategies put in place three decades ago, when federal authorities said districts must integrate schools racially.

Almost immediately, schools in the predominantly minority parts of town became crowded, and schools where white students were bused, such as Mueller, lost their racial balance.

Twenty-one of the district’s 80-plus schools are considered single-race in that they had 60 percent or more of students of one race last year, according to district data.

Magnet programs at these schools are supposed to attract a diverse student body, but since most have to accept neighborhood students first, there is limited space for students interested in the magnet program.

A committee of community members is considering the paradoxical task of how to maintain racial diversity in schools without using race as a factor.

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A draft of the policy states the purpose of magnet programs includes ensuring all students have equitable access to education, reducing “minority group isolation,” and increasing diversity of racial, ethnic and economic backgrounds.

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At Mueller, in the central-northeast part of Wichita, which is mostly minority and low-income, about 190 of the 540 students are magnet program students. But they weren’t the only ones excited about the new engineering curriculum, principal Anne Clemens said.

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The magnet program didn’t attract a diverse enough pool of applicants to keep Mueller from being mostly comprised of black students, though. Clemens said that as the program continues, however, interest will grow across the district.

“All magnet schools are hoping for that–all schools want to be racially balanced,” she said. “A good reflection of our district is diverse. We don’t want it to go back to segregation.”

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