Opinion: School assignment plan lost in translation

by Flo Beaumon

BHIS students welcomed the community in many languages at last years Opening Ceremony. Photo by Bridget Christian.
BHIS students welcomed the community in many languages at last year's Opening Ceremony. Photo by Bridget Christian.
My son is a first grader at Beacon Hill International School.  It’s a dream come true for us, and we felt very lucky that though it was not our reference area school (we live 1.8 miles north of the school), after a month on the waiting list he got in.  We were doubly happy that our son’s little brother will be able to join his big brother at BHIS in a few years.

Or so we thought.  

Though I had heard rumblings about a change in the school assignment system, I had no information about it until I saw a posting on Madrona Moms last spring.  The new Student Assignment Plan, evidently years in development, quietly eliminated the sibling priority for enrollment.  The plan to make the schools neighborhood schools would break up thousands of SPS families into two different elementary schools, or would force families to pull their older child out of his or her school to be able to attend the neighborhood school with the incoming kindergartener.

We have been trying to get the word out at our school.  It’s greatly complicated by the diversity of languages at students’ homes.  Only about half of the students’ families speak English at home.   My husband got letters to the school board translated into Mandarin and Spanish, and families from those cultures signed them.  Our school’s principal pointed out that over the years many Beacon Hill Elementary School families from outside the reference area chose the school because of its strong support for English language learners.  

In June, the School Board voted to approve the new Student Assignment Plan.  But, due entirely to the growing outcry by parents, they addressed the question of grandfathering in younger siblings of currently enrolled students by promising to consider a transition plan this fall, after the new boundaries are released and voted on. 

Soon after the start of the new school year, the School District released the maps of proposed new boundaries.  I saw another flyer from the District about the proposed plan and the meetings, and the plan has been mentioned in the school emails and the Superintendent’s newsletter.  They have had nine community feedback meetings to get input about the boundaries.   

But it occurred to me a week ago, after the feedback meetings were all over, that while our son’s school carefully translates internal notices going home with students into at least Spanish and Mandarin, and often Vietnamese and Tagalog as well, I hadn’t seen anything from the District about the new Student Assignment Plan in other languages.

I checked the Seattle Public Schools website and clicked on the languages at the bottom.  I can read enough Spanish to see that it’s all about the Bilingual Family Center, and the Mandarin tab properties indicate those pages are the same.

I called the District.  A nice woman put me on hold a long time to check.  She said I could find it on line at the bottom of the SPS webpage, under the languages tabs.  I told her there is nothing about the Student Assignment Plan there.  Hmmm.  She checked again, and then referred me to the Bilingual Enrollment Center.  They told me that the information is still being translated, and it is not available yet. 

So here we are, how far into this process?  And the approximately 50% of BHIS families who speak a non-English language at home don’t have information about the Student Assignment Plan and the boundaries and the meetings in a language they can read.

It’s no exaggeration to say that the immigrant families are really getting the short end of the stick here.  

I wish I could say this in something other than English (okay, my German and French are of no use here):  There will be a public hearing on Attendance Area Boundaries, Monday, November 9, 6:00 - 8:00 pm  at the John Stanford Center Auditorium, 2445 3rd Avenue South.

There are two upcoming community information meetings:

  • Thursday, November 5th, 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm,  Roosevelt High School, 1410 Northeast 66th Street
  • Saturday, November 7th, 10:00 am – 12:00 pm, Rainier Beach High School, 8815 Seward Park Avenue South 

If you are interested in the sibling preference issue, please visit http://www.keepourkidstogether.org/.

(Do you have an opinion about a Beacon Hill issue? We are always interested in opinion posts from the community. Send us your thoughts at blog@beaconhill.seattle.wa.us.)