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Cheh proposes school boundary studies for D.C.

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Local,DC,Education,Lisa Gartner

D.C. Councilwoman Mary Cheh introduced legislation Tuesday that would require the city to study public school boundaries, which haven't been touched in decades.

The School Boundary Review Act, co-sponsored by Council Chairman Kwame Brown, would establish a commission to examine the boundaries and feeder-school patterns every 10 years. It provides protections for students already enrolled in school from being re-zoned to another, and grandfathers in students' siblings.

Uneven enrollment is well-documented in the city and follows school performance and community wealth. In Cheh's Ward 3, virtually every school is over-capacity; Alice Deal Middle School is expected to soon serve 1,200 students in a building intended for 900.

Meanwhile, most Ward 7 schools are at 60-percent capacity or less, and half of Ward 8 schools have similarly low enrollment. Many enroll in charter schools or use the out-of-boundary lottery to attend better schools. But as Deal and Woodrow Wilson Senior High School have become too crowded to accept students from the lottery, that option narrows.

New boundary lines would not address underlying causes, Cheh acknowledged. But she told The Washington Examiner that it's a short-term fix that her overflowing ward, and possibly other areas, needs.

"There are students [zoned for] Wilson who are a mile or two away from Eastern High School -- which has been completely modernized -- but six miles away from Wilson," Cheh said. "In other areas they have closings, schools too big for what they have, and another way to right-size the schools is to think about the boundary lines."

Cheh said she repeatedly has asked school officials to conduct boundary studies, but they have not -- either because it's so contentious or because the school system has been absorbed with so many reforms. "They say, 'Yeah sure, we're going to take a look at that,' and they don't do it."

The Examiner first reported that Cheh had proposed a new middle school for Ward 3, but she says it received a "chilly reception" from D.C. Public Schools officials, who deemed it "inappropriate" when other wards lacked any sufficient middle-school options.

A DCPS spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment. Lisa Gartner

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