School board candidate Matt Leedom said a curious thing today.
During a Q&A with the Argus Leader editorial board, Patrick Lalley asked about de facto segregation in Sioux Falls public schools, whether it’s a problem and what the school board can do about it.
Kent Alberty said it’s true that some parents open-enroll their kids to more affluent/whiter schools, but some also open-enroll into more diverse schools.
Leedom was up next. He said he is one of those parents who chose a more diverse school for his sons:
“We’ve got parents — and I happen to be one of ‘em — that open-enrolled my child … in a school that I wanted him to experience, you know, the most culture that they possibly can because that is the world that we live in. And I think it’s very healthy to have friends and classmates from all parts of the city and from all backgrounds, to gain an understanding, I think, that creates more success in a student’s future.” [around the 17:50 mark]
His 9-year-old attends Robert Frost.
“They do draw from the north and from the south. It’s just a great mix there,” he said.
Great mix? The student population at Robert Frost is 89 percent white, and 24 percent are on free or reduced-price meals. It’s not exactly Hawthorne, which is 10 percent white, or Lowell, 11 percent.
Nor is it Horace Mann, which is two blocks from Leedom’s home, 68 percent white and where 68 percent are on free or reduced-price meals.
Well, no, it’s not that simple.
I asked Leedom about his open-enrollment decision after the editorial board session. He bought the house near Horace Mann last year. His third-grader has been going to Robert Frost since kindergarten, and at the time he and his ex-wife choose a school, he was living near 57th and Sertoma Ave.
That would have put him in the boundaries for R.F. Pettigrew Elementary, which opened the same year his son started kindergarten. Pettigrew is 88 percent white, and 20 percent get meal subsidies.
Leedom said his step-sister, who teaches at John Harris, was hoping he’d send his son to her school. With 16.4 percent on meal subsidies, that’s the district’s most affluent elementary, and 88 percent of the students are white.
Ultimately, he and his ex-wife settled on Robert Frost. He said he liked that it was centrally located, pulls students from north and east of there and seemed like it would offer a good level diversity.
It had, he said, a “nice range of students from various cultural backgrounds and” family situations. “I think it’s terrible when a Caucasian kid sees a kid with darker skin and thinks, ‘Oh, that’s weird.”
He adds that his children’s mother had a good deal of say in the matter as well – they share custody 50/50 – and he’d love to have been able to start his 5-year-old at Horace Mann next year.
So, it’s probably unfair to tag Leedom as a parent who open-enrolled out of a diverse school and into an affluent one. But neither does he deserve a pat on the back for doing the opposite.
For what it’s worth, Carly Reiter today described her kid’s school, Rosa Parks, as “a very diverse school.”
Rosa Parks is 76 percent white with 29 percent on meal subsidies.
The school district is 70.5 percent white, and the median elementary school here has 46 percent of its students on meal subsidies.
In Reiter’s defense, most of the kids there are learning Spanish.