Citizen's group files a complaint to the state AG over advanced learning in Seattle | KNKX

Citizen's group files a complaint to the state AG over advanced learning in Seattle

Dec 3, 2019

UPDATE, Dec. 6: Adds response from the attorney general's office to the school district.

A citizen's group that includes parents and former Seattle School Board Director Sue Peters has filed a complaint with the state Attorney General's Office, saying the Seattle district is failing to follow state law regarding advanced learning.

In a letter to Seattle Superintendent Denise Juneau dated Dec. 4, the attorney general's consumer protection division said it had received the complaint and "determined the nature of the information appears to involve a matter that would best be addressed by your agency."

Brionna Aho, spokeswoman for the attorney general's office, said the office's civil rights division is still reviewing the complaint.

The complaint comes after a tumultuous few months, in which gifted education has been a controversial topic for Seattle Public Schools. Juneau has been advocating for the district to shift away from having separate schools and classrooms for students identified as highly capable. The program has long been less racially diverse than the district as whole, and Juneau and other district leaders say the separate system perpetuates institutional racism.

In their complaint, the group called Equity and Access to Support Every Learner said the district has failed to heed the advice of numerous task forces over the years that have advised that the district adopt better identification procedures to boost participation by students of color.

“At a very basic level, they should be universally testing every student in Seattle, and it should be an opt-out situation, not an opt-in situation,” said Megan Hazen, one of the people who signed the letter. She has three children in the highly capable cohort in Seattle Public Schools.

The Seattle district does do screening of second-graders in some high-poverty schools, but families with children at other schools have to sign them up for testing, which takes place on a weekend.

Hazen said the most urgent issue regarding advanced learning concerns Washington Middle School, which serves students in the highly capable cohort in Southeast Seattle, the most racially diverse part of the city. The district has proposed to begin shifting the school starting next year to a STEM-focused program run by Technology Access Foundation and integrate general-education and highly capable students.

That would eliminate a separate highly capable track for middle schoolers in that part of the city, Hazen said, and would result in “a hugely disparate offering between students living in North Seattle and students living in South Seattle.”

District spokesman Tim Robinson said in a statement that the district’s focus continues to be to provide all students, including advanced learners, with the “best possible education.”

He said the district supports the work of a task force of community members, educators and parents that’s been meeting for more than a year to come up with recommendations regarding advanced learning.

“The task force will complete its work on Dec. 10, 2019,” Robinson said. “The superintendent will review the work of the task force and, along with district staff, will consider next steps.”

As for Washington Middle School, Robinson said the school board will discuss the proposal regarding Technology Access Foundation at a meeting on Dec. 18.