How often have your heard a parent encourage children to share, take turns, and to play fair? Our basic role as parents is to instill a spirit of cooperation in our children. And in schools, educators promote the same values, including respect, honesty, good citizenry, and democracy. Teachers understand that the foundation for a positive learning environment is based on mutual trust and an ethical standard. Sounds good, right? Absolutely, well, until you run into something like the Bend-La Pine School District's policy on magnet school admission. Everything about the policy stands apart from the "fairness" principle that teachers/parents impart to children.
The very meaning and purpose of magnet schools is to "magnetize" students from across geographical, socioeconomic and cultural boundaries, so they can participate in an alternative learning approach. Currently, the admission policy for the local magnet schools exempts families within a "magnet zone" from having to participate in a general lottery. Any spots left over are "given" to the general population to compete in a general lottery. In other words, for those of us who can't afford nor want to live in the downtown corridor, we have to fight for the scraps. In the case of Amity Creek Magnet School this academic year, there was one - yes, one - space available to the general population. Magnet schools should not be treated as regular "neighborhood" schools since these neighborhoods are already being served by High Lakes or Miller elementary schools.
Ultimately, the "living in the zone" preferential treatment breeds negative consequences for the community as a whole. It encourages otherwise honest families to exploit loopholes and to resort to dishonest means to get their children into the school of choice. Teachers and administrators are put into an awkward position of defending the district's unfair policy, even to the extent of becoming detectives to ensure there aren't "cheaters" trying to game the system. The policy breeds resentment and causes a rift between the haves and have-nots (families living in the zone vs. outside the zone). How can a school build a trusting, cooperative community when the underlying premise of enrollment highly favors one population group over another? How do you teach children about fairness, mutual respect, and understanding when the privilege of attending a magnet school is underscored by elitism caused by the unfair admission policy.
When we don't speak up about important issues of social injustice, our silence gives consent to that unjust policy and its detrimental consequences. On an interpersonal level, one can't expect everyone to play fair. But on a public level, where a governing body dictates policy that has long-term effects on society, we expect a school district to give equal and fair access to its entire constituent, not just a privileged few.
I invite members of our community to make their voices heard at the upcoming school board meeting, December 13 at 6 p.m.
This existing admission policy is overdue for a complete overhaul, which includes the need for complete transparency in the admission lottery process, increased public outreach regarding magnet schools, and improving the socioeconomic and cultural imbalances at some of the magnet schools. A pure lottery system, subject to public scrutiny, should take its place to ensure all children receive a fair chance at competing for the limited space. Pure chance doesn't discriminate based on who you are, what you are or where you live. It's "natural selection" at its best.
Stand up for the innocent children being locked-out of a fair chance of attending some of the district's best schools.
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