District says it can’t release information on ELL status, Jump Start participation for students in segregated kindergarten class

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The Shawnee Mission School District says it cannot release information on English language learner status or Jump Start participation for students on the roster of the John Diemer Elementary kindergarten section that was the subject of a Title VI racial segregation complaint prior to the start of classes last month.

Following the revelation that the district reconfigured the rosters of its three Diemer kindergarten sections after parents there noticed that one of the classes contained an abnormally high concentration of minority students, a number of district patrons asked questions about whether administrators may have been attempting to put children who would benefit from access to an ELL-certified educator together, or perhaps were attempting to group children who knew each other from participation in a summer Jump Start program.

But the district says it does not keep records on rosters formed ahead of the official start of classes. Asked to provide information about the number of students on the original class roster who had ELL status and who participated in Jump Start, the district’s communications office said that the information simply wasn’t available.

“[T]he district does not have that information you are inquiry [sic] about because these rosters have already changed and the oldest class roster snapshot that we have is from August 21 (which was after the classes were rearranged),” Shawnee Mission Director of Communications Erin Little wrote in response to a request from the Shawnee Mission Post. “In addition…the district has not started compiling Jump Star [sic] data.”

Correspondence on the matter obtained by the Shawnee Mission Post under a Kansas Open Records Act request showed district-administrators suggesting that a desire to keep students with a teacher they knew from the Jump Start program might have been behind the issues with the roster.

“The issue here might be related to Jump Start, and the fact that we try to keep Jump Start students with their kindergarten teachers,” wrote Dan Gruman, the district’s director of assessment and research. “…and that JS has a higher concentration of minority students… I don’t happen to have JS rosters yet to confirm.”

Without information about the makeup of the initial class roster, however, it’s difficult to gauge what building administrators may have been trying to accomplish.

Jemma Radick, the district parent who submitted the Title VI complaint, maintains that administrators likely had good intentions in crafting the original kindergarten rosters at the school, but said the district needs to be held to a high standard in matters of diversity.

“I really believe they had the best of intentions, but there is a need to ensure that students are not being separated from each other based on their heritage, and some families felt like that was what was happening,” she said. “Again, I think there wasn’t any bad intention, but we have high expectations of our schools and we hold them to a higher standard.”

Radick does not have any children who attend Diemer, but she is friends with Diemer families who had discussed the situation with her. She said she felt compelled to get involved and ask the district to look into the situation after hearing from some of her friends that when they’d brought the matter to the attention of school-level staff, they’d gotten “unsatisfactory” answers.

“The problem was that parents were getting responses that were all over the map,” she said. “Some heard that it was completely random. Some heard that it was the district’s policy to group ELL students together. The teachers weren’t armed with the facts to respond to these questions.”

However, Radick says she was very satisfied with how the district-level administrators handled the issue once it was brought to their attention.

“They took the comments seriously and addressed the problem,” she said. “I sent a letter on Friday and by Monday the issue was taken care of.”