I always assumed attendance boundaries around neighborhood schools were black and white. Not without controversy (heck no!), not permanent, but pretty straightforward: You live at this address, so this is your `home school.’
That’s why I was surprised to get an e-mail from Alexis Lezin, an Oakland mom who lives in North Oakland and has tried, unsuccessfully, to enroll her future kindergartner at Chabot Elementary School in Rockridge through the Options process.
Lezin’s family lives inside the Emerson Elementary School boundaries, and her child would be the first to attend Chabot, so the district’s Options policy doesn’t guarantee her child a spot at the Rockridge school. Still, she said she was floored to learn that three of the children admitted to Chabot were Berkeley residents. She wrote this in a letter to Mike Bonino, a district staffer who manages the Options process:
I am stunned to realize that Berkeley residents, who do not pay Oakland city taxes, who have access to a number of high performing schools in their own city, were offered the space(s) that could have gone to my son and other children of Oakland residents who deserve a safe place in which to learn *in their own district.*
It wasn’t an oversight or a computer glitch. Troy Flint, the district’s spokesman, said although the families in question are Berkeley residents, they live on the Oakland boundary, on a horseshoe-shaped street “a stone’s throw” from Chabot:
It’s difficult to explain without a map, but the families involved live in an area that is Chabot adjacent; it abuts and is partly surrounded by Oakland. Their homes are a stone’s throw from the school and Oakland proper (and closer to the school than the majority of enrolled families) but are officially Berkeley residences. The judgment of our enrollment department was that these families are essentially Chabot neighborhood families, in the meaningful sense of the term, even though they live just beyond the city line.
Three students out of a total of 112 were admitted under this rationale. We recognize that people who favor a stricter interpretation may disagree with the reasoning and that they have valid arguments to offer. It’s an issue we will revisit as we review this year’s enrollment process.
What do you make of this interpretation? Is this an issue at other schools on the Berkeley border? I asked Flint for clarification about the specific boundaries, and he responded, “The families live on a border street but are marginally outside Chabot’s enrollment boundaries. It has been standard practice for some time (I’m not sure how long) to enroll students from this particular area in Chabot Elementary…”
Here is the full text of Lezin’s letter:
Dear Mike Bonino:
I am writing to you to convey my deep disappointment and outrage to know
that at least three Berkeley families who applied for inter-district
transfers into Chabot Elementary were given neighborhood priority, and were
offered spaces for kindergarten before the option to appeal was even offered
to Oakland residents!! I fail to understand the reasoning behind this and
would like to get a better understanding from you as soon as possible. I
understand from speaking with an administrator from San Leandro Unified,
that it is standard practice there to place students from their own district
first, before even considering inter-district transfers. Why was this not
the case in OUSD???
Our local school is Emerson elementary, and our son will be entering
kindergarten next year. We are a two mom family, and we spoke with faculty
and staff at Emerson who told us that they did not know of any other LGBT
families at Emerson, and that the one LGBT family they had known had left
the school because they felt the environment was both hostile and unsafe for
their child. We chose Chabot as our first choice in the options process
because there is an organized LGBT parent group there we felt he would be
find a safe environment there in which to learn.
I am stunned to realize that Berkeley residents, who do not pay Oakland city
taxes, who have access to a number of high performing schools in their own
city, were offered the space(s) that could have gone to my son and other
children of Oakland residents who deserve a safe place in which to learn *in
their own district*.
In the meantime, our son got into a private school with significant
financial aid. Our first choice was to enroll him in public school. We
were willing to hang on until the first week of school (as we had been
advised by others) in order to find a good fit for our son and our family
within OUSD. We were prepared to give significant amounts of time and
energy to a district desperately in need. I must tell you though, after
hearing about the spots given to Berkeley families, we are not inclined to
send our son to any school within OUSD. It is a loss for all of us.
I assure you that I will let others who have participated in the options
process know about what has happened. I know of one family in particular
who come from a program improvement school, and were not offered a spot at
Chabot. They do not have private school to fall back on as an option. I do
not intend to let this issue go until your policy has been either explained
satisfactorily and/or remedied immediately. Thank you in advance for your