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AISD's Plan To Close Schools Prompts Discussion On Boosting Equity In Austin Public Schools

Gabriel C. Pérez
Rebecca Harshman, a freshman at LASA, told the district's board that it should focus on reducing socioeconomic segregation in Austin schools.

The Austin School Board approved its guidelines for closing and consolidating schools last night, but much of the discussion ahead of the vote just before midnight centered on increasing equity in Austin public schools.

Trustees Ann Teich and Jayme Mathias proposed measures that sought to balance access to nearby schools and boost socioeconomic diversity in public schools.

RELATED | Here's Where We Are In Austin ISD's School Consolidation Process

Right now, schools in the Austin Independent School District are heavily segregated along income levels, and some see the district's plan to close or consolidate schools as a chance to bring more balance to schools. Supporters say redrawing boundaries for schools in the district to include students from different neighborhoods could go a long way to achieve that.

But those board members calling for socioeconomic integration in schools cautioned against crosstown busing, which they say could lead to hourslong bus rides for students zoned for new schools.

LaTisha Anderson, who represents much of East Austin, experienced crosstown busing in the 1980s. She said, while she’d like to see school integration, the district needs to also think about how that would look in schools.

"OK, so say we integrate the schools. How are we going to address the institutional racism?" Anderson asked. "It is not fun walking into a school that you’re not familiar with ... to only feel like somehow that staff [doesn't] want you there. I’ve experienced that, and I don’t want a child or a parent to go through that."

Ultimately, the board didn’t approve the measure.

Trustee Ann Teich also proposed adding a new guideline to cap how many low-income families experience consolidation at 53 percent. She argued the cap would prevent closures at schools with large amounts of low-income students.

Trustee Jayme Mathias said the cap will be crucial as the district addresses "difficult conversations like institutional racism" during the closure and consolidation process.

Board members who voted against these two measures said they need more time before ultimately deciding on a specific plan to increase equity. Though, trustees did support the idea of creating a cap in the next few months.

The board did approve the rest of the guiding principles, which hope to boost students' access to specialized classes and extracurricular activities, as well as making sure students attend renovated schools.

Now that the framework for closing and consolidating is set, the district staff will spend the summer weighing its options.

The district hopes to finalize a handful of scenarios for closures and consolidations before a final vote in October.

Claire McInerny is a former education reporter for KUT.
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