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New school: Return to segregation?

The plan being considered by the District 65 School Board to build a new school in the 5th Ward could mark a return to the city’s segregated school attendance patterns of the past.

The plan being considered by the District 65 School Board to build a new school in the 5th Ward could mark a return to the city’s segregated school attendance patterns of the past.

A map of existing school boundaries with the proposed attendance area for the new school superimposed in red.

Almost a half century after Evanston voluntarily ended de facto segregation in its elementary schools by closing the nearly all-black Foster School, the board this month started discussions about building the city’s first new school in decades just across the street from the old Foster School building.

The proposal, designed as one possible response to projections of continued enrollment growth in the district, would require voter approval of a multi-million dollar construction bond issue.

While school officials insist that only the most preliminary ideas about where a new school might be built have been broached so far, an attendance area map drawn for a staff presentation to the board shows the new school serving the most heavily black neighborhoods in the city.

An Evanston Now analysis of U.S. Census data shows that in 2000, the most recent year for which block-level data is available, the population of the proposed new school attendance area was 80 percent black — compared to 22.5 percent black for the city as a whole. (Data from the 2010 census that will update this information is scheduled to be released in February or March next year.)

Less than 11 percent of the population of the area was white — compared to 65 percent for the city as a whole.

In addition, carving out the new attendance area would dramatically reduce the number of black students attending existing schools in north Evanston.

The population of Evanston northwest of the North Shore Channel and northeast of Green Bay Road was less than 5 percent black in 2000.

But the four elementary schools in that area had enrollments last year that ranged from 14 percent black at Willard to 27 percent black at Kingsley — because their attendance areas included predominantly black portions of the city that would no longer feed those schools if a new school were built with the attendance boundaries suggested this month.

Since 1985 the school board has had a goal of having no single racial or ethnic group exceed 60 percent of any school’s population. During the last school year only two schools exceeded that guideline — Orrington at 72 percent white and Willard at 64 percent white.

The board is scheduled to discuss the new school plan and possible tax hike referendum at its next meeting Sept. 13.

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