On the eve of a new school board being seated, the issue of boundary lines for Free State and Lawrence high schools has surfaced again.
There is no strong groundswell for change, but school board members, including some joining the board next month, are willing to look at the options.
School Board Member Bob Byers pointed out at Monday’s meeting that “boundaries are not permanent.” That’s true, but boundary changes have an impact on students and families and, when the board makes a change, it should be for a good reason.
The high schools’ lone dividing line — the one that has stood for all 14 years since Free State opened northwest of Sixth Street and Folks Road — runs along 15th Street and Bob Billings Parkway. Students who live north of the boundary line attend Free State and those who reside to the south go to Lawrence High.
The east-west line was established in an effort to provide a relatively equal racial and socio-economic balance between the two schools. Nearly 15 years on, the decision appears to be a sound one, even if a good number of elementary school students split up for the three years of junior high before rejoining their friends and classmates in high school.
Maybe because of the junior high years, when some students make new friends who later go on to a different high school, our community’s public high school students are more friendly with those who attend their “rival” school. Along the way, they have been in clubs together, were teammates in sports and played in the same band. So, when they look across the football field during the annual Lawrence-Free State game, they see friends.
Are there advantages to having all students from a given elementary school also attend the same junior high and high school? Maybe, but such a strategy also could lead to inequities from school to school, especially at the junior high and high school levels.
Today, Lawrence High has more students than Free State and a higher percentage of students who qualify for free and reduced lunches and more minority students. That is a situation the community should monitor, but it’s not necessarily a negative. If those factors affect student achievement, district officials should look at a variety of ways to address those concerns.
School board members can look at academics, demographics and other factors and see if there are any consistent trends that a high school boundary change might improve, but changes in the 15th Street line shouldn’t be undertaken lightly.
The entire community must benefit from whatever moves are made.