Bowser is making only modest changes to Gray's schools plan.
Bowser is making only modest changes to Gray's schools plan.

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After criticizing her predecessor Vince Gray‘s plan to redraw school-assignment boundaries for exacerbating geographic inequality, Mayor Muriel Bowser has opted to keep that plan largely intact, making just two tweaks aimed at mitigating the effects of the changes.

Gray adopted a plan last August for the first comprehensive reworking of the school boundaries in more than 40 years. His plan would have streamlined the complex network of feeder patterns that have left well-regarded schools overcrowded while others have closed due to under-enrollment. But it also threatened to force some families to send their children to lower-performing schools, leading Bowser to pledge revisions in order to ensure that Rock Creek Park and the Anacostia River wouldn’t become more entrenched dividing lines between the city’s haves and have-nots.

But the revisions Bowser ultimately settled on, which she released today, don’t substantially alter Gray’s proposal. Instead, there are just two changes.

The first aims to blur the divide formed by the Anacostia River. Under Gray’s plan, Eastern High School’s boundaries would have aligned largely with those of Ward 6, and students east of the Anacostia in Ward 7, who previously had access to Eastern, would have been moved to Woodson High School. Bowser has decided to allow students at Kelly Miller Middle School, in Ward 7, to attend either Woodson or Eastern. That allows these students to cross the river and attend what many expect to become the higher-performing Eastern, but, as Bowser office acknowledges in a “frequently asked questions” document it released today, it’s likely to mean a smaller student population at Woodson.

The second change extends the “grandfathering” period for students assigned to new middle schools until 2022. Gray’s plan calls for four new middle schools in the city, but it’s clear that Bowser is focused on MacFarland Middle School, in her home Ward 4, which is slated to reopen after closing in 2013 due to underenrollment. The neighborhood most angered by Gray’s plan was likely Crestwood, which lost access to popular Deal Middle School and Wilson High School in Tenleytown, instead being routed to MacFarland and the struggling Roosevelt High School. Bowser’s changes allow these families to continue attending Deal and Wilson until 2022.

This change, Bowser’s office says, helps “address the problem of Rock Creek Park acting as a geographic barrier” by allowing Ward 4 families to attend Deal and Wilson until MacFarland has had three to four years to establish itself. That’s sure to appease some of these families, but runs the risk of denying MacFarland a full (and potentially affluent) student population in its first years of existence. It also has the potential to pass the buck until the next scheduled boundary review, in 2022.

Gray adopted his changes after he’d been defeated by Bowser in the April 2014 mayoral primary, freeing him from political pressure and allowing him to take some risks that other mayors have avoided. Bowser, in her first year in office, has no such freedom, and some residents feared she’d undo Gray’s changes to satisfy constituents. Today’s announcement signifies she’s mostly sticking with the politically dicey changes, but taking steps to assuage the two neighborhoods seen as the biggest losers in the earlier plan, in Crestwood and Ward 7.

A spokesman for Bowser did not immediately return a request for comment. Bowser’s office says in its FAQ document that it does not expect to make further changes to the boundaries.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery