Teachers at the popular Sunnyside Environmental School in Southeast Portland say it's time for Portland Public Schools to abolish a long-standing admissions policy that lets neighborhood students jump ahead of children from other parts of Portland.
Sunnyside is a focus-option K-8 school that is supposed to be open to any child in the district who applies through a lottery. But Sunnyside, which launched as a special environmental justice program in the 1990s at a different location, today guarantees admission to children in its surrounding neighborhoods near the Hawthorne District.
For the past several years, teachers say, that's meant Sunnyside has enrolled zero children from outside the largely white and relatively wealthy enclaves of Hawthorne Boulevard unless a child already has a sibling at the school.
Right now, PPS is in the midst of overhauling its neighborhood school boundaries. The aim is to balance enrollment across the district and give all kids an equal shot at a solid core program.
As part of that process, PPS has proposed peeling away a portion of Sunnyside's catchment area and sending those families to Glencoe Elementary School, which sits east of Sunnyside on Southeast Belmont Street.
But despite pleas from teachers starting three years ago to address the neighborhood guarantee—a policy that gives an edge to families who can afford to live near the school—PPS's current boundary proposals don't. That leaves poor students and students of color shut out again, teachers say.
Eighty percent of Sunnyside students are white. Districtwide, less than 60 percent of K-8 students are white. And about 30 percent of Sunnyside students qualified for free or reduced-price lunch in 2013, the latest year for which data is available, compared with nearly 50 percent districtwide.
"We believe our current enrollment dilemma to be in direct violation of the district's equity policy," teachers wrote in a letter to the Portland School Board. "Families that can acquire an in-neighborhood address have unequal access to the district's environmental focus option."
Teachers have proposed two options: Make Sunnyside a true focus-option school with no neighborhood guarantee, or return Sunnyside to neighborhood-school status and move the environmental program to a new location.
PPS has seven focus-option schools for the primary grades. Only two—Sunnyside and Buckman Arts Elementary (also in Southeast)—guarantee enrollment for neighborhood kids. The rest are open by lottery only.
Jon Isaacs, a spokesman for PPS, says all options are still possible. "Changes to focus-option schools are on the table," he writes in an email.