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School Board Considers Options for Don Callejon Overcrowding

Advocates from the Alviso neighborhood blew the whistle on the Santa Clara School Board, claiming a social justice foul.

Although many parents of Don Callejon students objected, a lottery may be the only equitable way to deal with problems of overcrowding at the school.

The K-8 school will need to relocate 46 students before the start of the 17-18 school year, Andrew Lucia, assistant superintendent for Santa Clara Unified School District, told the School Board at its Thursday night meeting. The problem is mainly with incoming sixth-graders, he said.

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With four six-grade homerooms able to host up to 33 students each–a limit set as part of collective bargaining agreements with the teachers’ union–Don Callejon can only accommodate 132 sixth-graders; the school has 178 incoming sixth-graders next year.

Still, Lucia said the district’s goal is to have “all students who want to attend Don Callejon, attend Don Callejon.”

The options that would ameliorate the problem–options such as installing more portables, redrafting the school boundaries and adding more classroom space –would take too long to put in place before the start of the 17-18 school year. Other options, such as giving preference to K-5 students or changing the school’s open-enrollment procedure, could carry legal implications.

Loren Carjulia, an attorney for the district, said the law surrounding open enrollment is clear that all children within the district must be on “equal footing,” adding that the law does not allow for the district to show preference to one student over another.

Still, many parents in the neighborhood said a lottery would disproportionately impact the students there from minority communities. Many argued that sixth grade is a crucial time for students, a time when they are forming friendships that establish stability in their lives.

Sohini Stone, a pediatrician, said she “takes offense” to the idea of a lottery because it could “negatively impact the psychological development” of the students who are moved from Don Callejon to another school.

“We have a lot of issues. The world is changing around us,” Stone said. “Middle school students are going through changes in their bodies, changes in their minds … Those connections are paramount.”

Elizabeth Morris said lotteries “cause fragmentation” and instill a “lack of diversity” within schools, adding moving children ensures that the “boundaries of friendship start to dissolve.”

School Board Trustee Jim Canova said he favors a “hybrid solution,” adding that he believes the district can “get a lot of mileage” out of a voluntary overload policy if the district “markets it properly.”

However, Trustee Michelle Ryan said she didn’t see voluntarily overloading as a solution.

“I would love if we could solve this problem with voluntarily overloading,” she said. “But all the people who have spoke said they want to stay at Don Callejon.”

The Board is looking to put a policy in place before the end of the school year to prevent parents from having to camp out in front of the school on the first day or enrollment. Many Board Members also said it was unfair to those who plan to leave for the summer.

Michael Hickey, president of the United Teachers of Santa Clara union, called the problem “horrible” and “not fair,” adding that the lottery is “not ideal” but that it is the only viable solution.

“There are going to be unhappy people no matter what,” he said.

The Board said it needed to meet again as soon as possible; it tentatively scheduled a special meeting to further discuss the issue and weigh the options once the Board has answers to the legality of some of the options. That meeting is scheduled for Tuesday June 13 at 7 p.m. at the Santa Clara Unified School District Office, 1889 Lawrence Road in Santa Clara.

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