(Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

Student segregation issue reappears at SF school board

In 2010, the Board of Education thought it could reverse racial isolation at San Francisco’s public schools when it gave top choice for schools to parents who live in neighborhoods with the lowest test scores.

But in the years since, the policy change has instead amplified the problem.

Asian parents in San Francisco send their children to elementary schools in the Sunset and Chinatown. Latino parents send their children to schools in the Mission and Excelsior. Black kids go to Bayview schools.

While not the case for every school or student in the district, these are the some of the trends that the San Francisco Unified School District is witnessing at elementary schools across The City. More than a dozen K-5 schools are considered racially isolated.

New analysis released Tuesday found that the student assignment system adopted six years ago is exacerbating racial segregation significantly in elementary schools. In response, the school board is taking a deeper dive into the issue to find possible solutions for it over the coming months as the district prepares to welcome a new superintendent.

One such way to mitigate racial isolation would be switching to a student assignment system based on the neighborhoods where students live, as opposed to parent choice, the analysis found.

Board of Education President Matt Haney said Tuesday at a school board committee — one of a handful of meetings where commissioners will mull over the issue — that the district has a “moral imperative” to address school segregation with urgency.

“This current situation as a school district that is becoming more segregated every day, every year, is completely unacceptable,” Haney said. “We’re not going to be successful in everything else that we want to do as a school district if we continue to have this reality.”

The analysis looked at enrollment at 58 elementary schools in the SFUSD and found that 14 of them are racially segregated, meaning more than 60 percent of the students enrolled are of one racial or ethnic group.

Those schools include Sutro Elementary in the Richmond, Cesar Chavez Elementary in the Mission and Malcolm X Academy in the Bayview.

A report from last year looked at the entire district and found that the overall number of racially isolated schools grew from 24 to 30 since the 2010 policy was implemented.

Based on the current makeup of the neighborhoods, a neighborhood-based assignment policy would reduce the number of segregated schools to just six — three in the Mission and three around Chinatown, the analysis found.

The analysis also shows that a neighborhood schools policy would boost test scores and reduce commute lengths for elementary schools, while raising challenges like overpopulation at certain schools. Racial isolation would also remain an issue, though to a lesser extent.

Commissioner Emily Murase said Tuesday it’s worth reviewing the neighborhood-based findings. Though no board member is currently proposing a change based on attendance area, the school board shot down a similar proposal to do so have in June 2015.

“As much as I would like to believe that the policy interventions that we have introduced since 2010 are working, I think there is ample evidence that they are not working,” Murase said. “I know that neighborhood schools comes with a lot of baggage, but I think we owe our students an honest look at the data.”

Commissioner Rachel Norton said Tuesday that school segregation is the most complex problem she has ever encountered in her professional life, and one that she has worked to correct since her first election to the board in 2008.

“We’ve proved that [parent choice] is not the direction,” Norton said. “We’ve reached the limits of that and that’s not the direction we want to go because we’ve actually increased segregation in a lot of ways.”

The school board is not expected to make any changes to the student assignment policy until after the new superintendent’s anticipated arrival next school year.

Racially isolated elementary schools in San Francisco:

* Sutro Elementary School
* Robert Louis Stevenson Elementary School
* Ulloa Elementary School
* John Yehall Chin Elementary School
* Jean Parker Elementary School
* Gordon Lau Elementary School
* Sanchez Elementary School
* Cesar Chavez Elementary School
* Bryant Elementary School
* Leonard Flynn Elementary School
* Junipero Serra Elementary School
* Cleveland Elementary School
* Charles Drew College Preparatory Elementary School
* Malcolm X Academy Elementary School

Source: San Francisco Unified School District

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