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Champaign school board keeps schools of choice, modifies middle school assignments

A little girl sits next to her father, who holds a sign that reads "I want to stay," and is decorated with hearts.
Dr. Howard Elementary School student Lilianna (pictured with her father) can stay at her current school after the Unit 4 Board of Education vote on Monday, Jan. 23, 2023.

CHAMPAIGN — After months of pushback, the Champaign Unit 4 school board has scaled back changes to its schools of choice system. 

Initially the district wanted to move students to different locations next fall to better desegregate its schools. 

Bruce Brown is a Unit 4 board member. He says he’s disappointed the community rejected those plans. 

“We heard that the status quo is what we want. We have a lawful, compelling interest to desegregate our schools by race and social class, and that was the goal,” Brown says. 

Brown says he ultimately voted for more incremental changes – alongside his six fellow board members – because he trusts Superintendent Shelia Boozer’s vision. 

He says the board hired Boozer to close opportunity and achievement gaps between students and she has proven she is up to the task. 

Some parents still concerned

Carmen Sims is one of the first parents from Bondville to speak at the Unit 4 Board of Education meetings on school choice changes. She says that shows a lack of outreach by the district and its consultants to the village. Emily Hays/Illinois Public Media

Unlike initial plans, no students will have to switch elementary schools next year – except the 13 students who live west of Champaign in Bondville. 

Carmen Sims is the mother of one of those students. She says it’s unfair that all Bondville students will have to go to the same school or find their own transportation. 

“Those kids out there need those buses,” Sims says. “Their parents can’t transport them. The reimbursement is not enough. A lot of them are single parents and would have to quit their jobs or relocate. I don’t think it’s fair.”

The district is trying to simplify its complicated bus routes. One part of the plan: give parents gas money to drive their own students to school. 

The board also approved changing middle school assignments for several of the district’s elementary schools. Students from Carrie Busey will attend Franklin Middle School instead of Edison. South Side elementary students will go to Jefferson. Westview and Booker T. Washington students will attend Edison. 

Other changes include adding full-day prekindergarten to Garden Hills and International Prep academies, adding middle school grades to Garden Hills and removing the full-year “balanced” calendar from Barkstall and Kenwood. 

A committee of administrators, teachers and parents will work out other details. The plan will start in the fall.

Emily Hays is a reporter for Illinois Public Media. Follow her on Twitter @amihatt.

Picture of Emily Hays

Emily Hays

Emily Hays started at WILL in October 2021 after three-plus years in local newsrooms in Virginia and Connecticut. She has won state awards for her housing coverage at Charlottesville Tomorrow and her education reporting at the New Haven Independent. Emily graduated from Yale University where she majored in History and South Asian Studies.

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