The Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, Board of Education voted unanimously June 15 to adopt a three-zone middle school enrollment model starting in 2023-2024, as first reported by Berkeleyside.
BUSD staff presented a recommendation to the BUSD Board of Education based on information gathered from their 18-month community engagement process. The recommendation would alter the current middle school model that names two zones for Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School and Willard Middle School, and add an additional zone to explicitly feed into Longfellow Middle School. The board voted in favor of the new policy as the final model that they will vote on again in November.
“It’s a broken, segregated system that doesn’t reflect our values, isn’t consistent with the way we do elementary school or high school assignment and needs to be fixed,” said BUSD Director Ty Alper during the meeting.
The Longfellow community began advocating for rezoning in 2018, according to BUSD Vice President Laura Babitt. According to the BUSD website, the school board began reviewing the existing middle school enrollment policy in 2019. However, the final vote on changing the policy was delayed, Babitt added, because the COVID-19 pandemic hindered their ability to receive community input.
Babitt said many BIPOC families were drawn to Longfellow’s larger community of color and that it was the only middle school that supported the Spanish Immersion program from Sylvia Mendez Elementary School.
“Diversity enriches the educational experiences of our students,” said BUSD Admissions Manager Francisco Martínez at the meeting. “(The three middle schools) do not reflect the socioeconomic diversity that exists in our community and all three middle schools are impacted by this phenomenon.”
Martínez presented during the June 15 meeting three years of aggregated data that revealed the three middle schools’ lack of racial and socioeconomic diversity and Longfellow Middle School’s disproportionate number of Black Americans and Latine students. Martínez said at the meeting these trends would continue if the current enrollment model goes unchanged.
Martínez added that the district’s core value has been its commitment to diversity and integration, since BUSD was recognized as one of the first major school districts to fully integrate its public schools voluntarily in 1968.
“Segregation has remained alive and well at Berkeley’s three middle schools,” Robert Collier, parent of a Longfellow student, alleged in an email. “By choosing to move forward now on rezoning the middle schools, the School Board is ensuring that Berkeley will have three high-quality middle schools that give all student demographic groups the excellent education they deserve.”
Ayah Ali-Ahmad and Tiffany Lieu contributed to this story.