WEBSTER GROVES — New boundaries approved Monday for Webster Groves elementary schools could promote racial and economic segregation in the district, some residents said.
The district’s School Board voted 6-0 in a videoconference to support the changes that will start in the fall of 2021.
The redistricting process began after voters passed a $22 million bond issue last April, aimed at balancing enrollment numbers in the district’s six elementary schools. Avery, Bristol, Clark and Edgar Road schools are overenrolled, while Hudson and Givens schools in the northern area of the district are below capacity.
Under the plan, the shared campus of Givens computer magnet school and Steger Sixth Grade Center near North Rock Hill and Manchester roads will become a neighborhood school for kindergarten through fifth grades. Sixth graders will move to Hixson Middle School.
During the redistricting process, the district surveyed its residents, offering them five scenarios for attendance boundary changes. About 1,600 residents responded. The School Board approved a recommendation from Superintendent John Simpson and an advisory committee that most closely aligns with the second-most popular option, earning the support of 48% of respondents.
After the changes take place, fewer than 5% of students at Avery and Edgar Road would be eligible for free or reduced-price lunches (an indicator of lower income families), compared to an estimated 30% of students at Givens. The low-income rate aligns closely with the percentage of African American students in each school.
The racial and socioeconomic ratios in the new zones are “ridiculously skewed,” wrote resident Jacob Budde in a public comment read by a board member during the meeting. “This is not a good plan for students because it will leave the district heavily segregated.”
Several other comments in opposition to the plan came from residents of Algonquin Wood near Algonquin Golf Club in Glendale, where homes will be rezoned to Givens from Bristol.
The residents’ concerns included a longer distance to school along with predictions of lower property values, average test scores and parent fundraising.
The current school boundaries in the district of 4,520 students split up the north Webster area, including neighborhoods with the district’s lowest average socioeconomic status. The rate of students who receive free or reduced-price lunches ranges from 7% at Bristol and Clark to 19% at Givens.
During the board meeting Monday, Simpson said, “Most of our families want diverse schools, in every which way.”
More than 100 students who live nearest to Givens are now bused or driven across the district to Edgar Road and Clark schools, Simpson said, through a desegregation program in place since the late 1970s.
“This would create an opportunity for more people to have a neighborhood school,” said Simpson, who added that one of his children will attend Givens.
The survey earlier this year exposed racism among some people who threatened to send their children to private schools or move away if they were rezoned to Givens. Under the plan, 220 students attending Bristol would be rezoned for Givens, the most from any school.
Howard Fields, principal of Givens and a co-founder of Black Males in Education-St. Louis, earlier this month announced his departure for an assistant superintendent position in the Kirkwood School District. Fields had previously said he planned to see Givens through the transition to a neighborhood school.
The district, which encompasses parts of five municipalities including Rock Hill and Shrewsbury, has been through previous rounds of redistricting based on population trends. Following the baby boom period when enrollment peaked at close to 8,000, the district closed four schools in the 1970s and 1980s. The newest changes reflect an 11% rise in enrollment over the last decade, according to district officials.