Schools Approve Diversity Plan

Students entering the Cambridge school system next fall will be assigned to elementary schools based partly on family income, the Cambridge School Committee voted Dec. 18.

The new Controlled Choice Plan—passed unanimously—makes Cambridge one of only a few cities nationwide to try to engineer school diversity by income.

“We’re setting the standard for another national model,” said committee member Fred Fantini.

Currently, parents list their top three choices of elementary schools and the city considers these requests while engineering racially-balanced schools. The new plan will minimize the importance of race and instead focus on socioeconomic status.

The current system has not achieved economic diversity. At the Harrington School in East Cambridge, 72 percent of students receive free or reduced-price lunch as compared to 13 percent of students at the Cambridgeport School.

As the School Committee meeting began, the Media Cafeteria at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School (CRLS) was packed with community members, most of whom supported the new plan.

“This is the first step to address and recognize that there is privilege,” said parent Josephine E. Brown.

Cambridge community members demonstrated overwhelming support of the plan, introduced by Superintendent of Schools Bobbie J. D’Alessandro, during the time reserved for public comment, urging the Committee to adopt it without delay.

“Cambridge is diverse, and this advantage should be used in all our schools,” said Carol Seriani, a Cambridge teacher and parent.

“What are you afraid of?” Hulia Perez, a Cambridge parent of 25 years, asked the members the School Committee.

Student members of the Committee also supported adoption of the plan.

“I’m begging you, pass this now. By next year, another group of kids will slip through,” said Emma Lang, a junior at CRLS. Lang attended a private elementary school with little socioeconomic diversity and says she learned “how to talk to different people” when she came to CRLS.

Committee members quickly compromised on key issues, writing two amendments to the proposal that many expected would cause greater conflict.

According to an amendment written by E. Denise Simmons and Joseph Grassi, race will only factor into school assignment if racial percentages in any school differ greatly from those in Cambridge.

Another amendment, written by Nancy Walser and Fred Fantini calls for an annual 30-day review of the Controlled Choice Plan before it is implemented for the following year.

D’Alessandro said she supported and was pleased by the amendments.