The Downtown Elementary School — which enrolls students differently from all other Bakersfield City School District schools — may be facing changes in the future under proposed changes the school board will consider.
At the September school board meeting, board members discussed removing the special enrollment priorities at the school and instead giving first priority to students who live within a newly drawn attendance boundary. The school's seventh- and eighth-grade classes could also be eliminated.
The Downtown Elementary was founded as a school for the children of parents who work in the downtown area in the hopes of increasing parent engagement. Parents must work in the downtown area or for the school district in order to apply for their child to attend. Because the school consistently gets more applications than it has space for, selection is done by lottery.
"Recently there’s been a discussion on whether that has in a way created an inequitable situation for the rest of the children who live in BCSD," said district spokeswoman Irma Cervantes, describing a board discussion that started in August. "And if so, does the policy need to change?"
As a result, district officials brought forth possible plans for changing the policies at Downtown Elementary at the Sept. 24 meeting. However, the board decided at that meeting it would not take any action until the end of the school year.
The soonest the changes would be implemented would be the 2021-22 school year, if at all, Cervantes said.
The idea prompted swift backlash from parents, who heard about the plan Wednesday and started an online petition that had 500 signatures in 20 hours.
"By changing these policies and boundary rules, we will be negatively impacting all students, their families and the local community that are apart (sic) of the Downtown family," said a petition posted on Change.org. "Community and connectedness builds character and the future leaders of our great city. Please do not take away this opportunity for our youth."
Lydia Nicholson, a parent whose daughter attends Downtown Elementary, suspects the district may see an opportunity to get more money by converting the school to a regular public school.
She noted that unlike nearly all other BCSD schools, downtown does not meet the requirements of having a student body primarily from low-income households to receive special funding.
"By now having boundaries — especially if you look at the boundaries in that area, it is made up of housing that's lower-income — they can get more money," Nicholson said.
The school is so small anyway, Nicholson said, it doesn't make sense to turn it into a regular public school. It enrolls around 310 students from kindergarten through eighth grade, she said, enough for two classes each in kindergarten through third grades and one class each in fourth through eighth grades.
Nicholson said she likes the original intent of the school being for parents who work downtown.
"If that was the purpose of the school when it started, why change something just because?" she asked.
BCSD Board President Lillian Tafoya said conversations about equity have been ongoing regarding numerous programs throughout the district. This is another one of those but she said parents would be notified if there are serious plans to make changes.
"The people there enjoy a very nice school… and any time a school hears information that might make them insecure" it causes concern, said school board president Lillian Tafoya.
In recent years, she said, "our board and our administration and staff … have been putting a lot of structures and systems in place to give opportunity and access to every child."