More than four years after Wichita stopped transporting students across town to racially integrate its schools, the district has taken another step toward shedding a voluntary busing agreement.
The Wichita School Board voted last week to approve a new contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. The move gives the federal agency six months to tell the district whether it’s officially released from the agreement, which dates back to 1971.
In January 2008, the Wichita board approved a plan that ended crosstown busing for most students but maintained a network of magnet schools and special programs. The move to end busing came after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2007 it was unconstitutional to assign students to schools based on race.
If the district’s busing efforts had stemmed from a court case, the Supreme Court ruling would have ended the agreement, Wichita schools spokeswoman Susan Arensman told The Associated Press November 7. But because its integration plan was voluntary, the process for ending it was less clear.
The district immediately sought guidance about how to proceed, Arensman said, but heard back from the Office for Civil Rights only about a month ago.
The Wichita Eagle reported that Superintendent John Allison called the new agreement “a positive step” for the district.
“It gives us some type of ability to know that we have a process and a timeline. It continues to confirm the district’s commitment to choice, to providing rich educational options for all of our students, and that is absolutely foundational,” she said.
Betty Arnold, the board member whose district overlaps the area from which African-American students once were bused away from neighborhood schools, said a key element of the new plan was upgrading, replacing or expanding several schools in the area as a part of bond issues.
Over the past decade, the district has renovated or rebuilt eight schools in the area, adding more than 100 classrooms, libraries and multipurpose rooms.
“I am very proud to be a part of the board that made sure that all those schools within District 1 were up to par,” Arnold said. “It wasn’t a matter of choosing to go back to neighborhood schools that are old and decrepit.”