Eden Prairie school board drops plan to balance racial mix

  • Article by: PATRICE RELERFORD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 8, 2007 - 8:53 PM

Eden Prairie elementary school boundaries won't be redrawn to balance racial makeup, school board decides.

Eden Prairie school board members have reversed a decision to redraw the district's elementary school boundaries to better balance racial diversity, in large part because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June.

The school board vote on Wednesday cancels out a decision the board made last spring to pursue boundary changes because nonwhite enrollment at Eden Prairie's elementary schools varies from 19 percent at Prairie View Elementary to 42 percent at Forest Hills Elementary.

Nonwhite enrollment at the district's other two traditional elementary schools, Cedar Ridge and Eden Lake, is 25 and 27 percent, respectively. And Eagle Heights Spanish immersion school's minority enrollment is about 16 percent, according to the state Department of Education.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June in cases out of Seattle and Louisville that race cannot be used as an explicit factor in determining student assignments.

"Instead of moving kids and families around, we need to support kids where they are," school board chairwoman Carol Bomben said. "It's a better focus than boundary adjustments."

Last spring, the district considered restructuring its elementary schools which now serve grades K-4, to serve grades K-6. That would have eliminated the district's fifth- and sixth-grade intermediate school, which would have become a K-6 school and the home of the district's fast-growing Spanish immersion program. The changeover also would have given the district an opportunity for racial balance in its elementary schools.

But after some district residents criticized the proposal, the school board decided to maintain the intermediate school for fifth and sixth grades and instead deal with the racial balance issue by redrawing elementary boundaries.

Following Wednesday's vote, the district said it will redraw elementary boundaries to deal with inequities in enrollment based on schools' capacity rather than race.

"It probably won't be as large as what we were looking at," Bomben said of the reassignments that will occur.

She said the district will develop a plan for Forest Hills to address the needs of low-income and minority students as well as those who speak English as a second language.

The district expects to convene a committee of transportation staff, administrators and parents in December or early January to help develop a boundary plan.

District officials' decision to redraw boundaries last spring was in part based on concerns about Forest Hills making the state's list of "racially identifiable" schools. The state doesn't force districts to redraw boundaries, but it does monitor schools that make the list.

"I don't think the state could understand what's going on at Forest Hills," said Amy Konkoly, who has children in kindergarten and third grade at Forest Hills. "There are amazing teachers at Forest Hills who can meet the needs of the students."

She said Forest Hills' diverse makeup is a positive attribute and not something that needs to be fixed or balanced.

"I'm invested in Forest Hills," Konkoly said. "As a parent, you make connections and it's difficult to imagine losing that.

Patrice Relerford • 612-673-4395

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