Chase Cain, 10 News (Bartow), August 17, 2011
Is race keeping a brother and sister from attending the same school? That’s the question facing the Polk County School Board.
The students’ parents have been fighting for weeks to get their kids in the same magnet school. For the family, it’s not about race. They say it’s simply about keeping the family together. However, school officials say it’s more complicated than that.
Rising first grader Trip and soon-to-be kindergartener Katie should attend the same school under normal county policy. However, now that Trip has gotten into the top-notch magnet school Lincoln Avenue Academy, a technicality means Katie can’t go with him.
The issue is that Trip wasn’t enrolled in Lincoln Avenue last school year and rising kindergarteners can only attend the same school if their older sibling was enrolled the previous year. It’s a loophole that doesn’t affect many students, but it has the McLaughlins upset.
Polk County School Board Chair Kay Fields told 10 News, “To me, diversity is just as important as family, in my opinion. You look at Lincoln Academy. Lincoln Academy is in a black community. So, to me, that’s important. That’s a part of diversity, and I think we have to look at all of it.”
Polk County magnet schools get federal money, in part, because they were designed to be racially diverse, and school officials say extending sibling preference beyond the current standards could cut into that necessary diversity by reducing the number of spaces available for minority students.
School official Carol Bridges told the board, “We continue to be scrutinized by the Office of Civil Rights and the Department of Justice to make sure we maintain that value [of diversity].”
Any changes to Polk County policies could trigger a review from the Department of Justice and the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.