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Students and teachers debate new district at public hearing of Board of Education

Sophomore+Aava+Farhadi%2C+sophomore+Ellora+Easton%2C+junior+Allyson+Tayao%2C+junior+Annika+Olson%2C+junior+Mackenzie+Champion%2C+and+senior+PJ+Gaughan+raise+signs+of+%22No+NUSD%22+and+%22Northgate+Uncapped%22+to+voice+their+opposition+to+NUSD+on+May+4.
Sophomore Aava Farhadi, sophomore Ellora Easton, junior Allyson Tayao, junior Annika Olson, junior Mackenzie Champion, and senior PJ Gaughan raise signs of

Sophomore Aava Farhadi, sophomore Ellora Easton, junior Allyson Tayao, junior Annika Olson, junior Mackenzie Champion, and senior PJ Gaughan raise signs of "No NUSD" and "Northgate Uncapped" to voice their opposition to NUSD on May 4.

Megan Son

Megan Son

Sophomore Aava Farhadi, sophomore Ellora Easton, junior Allyson Tayao, junior Annika Olson, junior Mackenzie Champion, and senior PJ Gaughan raise signs of "No NUSD" and "Northgate Uncapped" to voice their opposition to NUSD on May 4.

Megan Son, News Editor

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Tensions ran high at a two-night public hearing held by the Contra Costa County Board of Education when hundreds of students, parents, teachers and community members convened May 2 and May 3 to voice opinions on the proposed creation of a new district, the Northgate Unified School District.

Board members will decide whether or not to approve the petition that a grassroots group of parents – Community Advocacy for Public School (NCAPS) – started several years ago. The group’s proposal calls for a new district comprised of Northgate High School, Foothill Middle School and three elementary schools – Walnut Acres, Bancroft and Valle Verde – which would break away from the current Mt. Diablo Unified School District (MDUSD).

The NCAPS petition to the county outlines the plan and asks that residents of the proposed new district be able to vote on the formation of a Northgate Unified School District (NUSD). Board members are in the process of studying the proposal, which will also go to state Department of Education. If approved, the proposal would ultimately be decided by a public vote.

Community members shared their views on not only the creation of a new district, but whether the public vote should include all citizens in the attendance boundaries of the current MDUSD, which includes the Northgate area schools, all of Concord, Pleasant Hill and parts of Clayton, or whether the vote should be limited to just the citizens that

would be included in the NUSD, primarily the Walnut Creek and Concord residents in the current MDUSD boundary for the Northgate schools.

Proponents and opponents of a new district expressed passionate convictions at the two nights of public input,  May 2 at the Concord Senior Center and May 3 at the Heather Farm Garden Center in Walnut Creek. The two nights featured about 150 speakers combined, with an outpouring of Northgate students attending the second night of the hearing.

Opponents of the split from the MDUSD repeatedly articulated concern that a redesigned district would result in a loss of diversity of students.

Speakers said they fear the new district would exclude many who attend Northgate on interdistrict transfers and who live outside the proposed boundaries, and who are nonwhite. NCAP proponents have repeatedly pointed out that the proposed district’s boundaries would mirror the current MDUSD boundaries for Northgate area schools that are already in place. The group has also stated that the new district would allow all current transfer students and about the same number of future transfers – more than 300 – depending on space and provided their home district allows the transfer.

On the other hand, NUSD supporters criticized MDUSD as being too large to effectively govern, with unaccountability due to overwhelming size; MDUSD contains 32,000 students while the proposed district would contain 4,200 students. Opponents countered that smaller is not necessarily better, and that the size of the current district allows a broad range of services including special education.

Each night’s hearing drew more than 200 people, as well as local television crews.Visual divisions were apparent. NUSD proponents clearly stood out wearing orange shirts stating “NUSD, Better Schools for our Students and Teachers,” while opponents sported red buttons stating MDUSD Proud.” Dozens of students held handmade signs supporting MDUSD.

Lizzie Fisher, a senior and one of the officers of Northgate’s first Intersectional Feminist Club, discussed the unique manifestations of diversity at Northgate.

“One thing that I really enjoy about this club is our emphasis on the word ‘intersectional’, which means we focus on a multitude of issues,” said Fisher. “Because of this, we have received a lot of participation from students of all grades, races, and genders, which makes me really proud to be a part of the student body.”

Fisher also referred to the annual Multicultural Rally as proud evidence of diversity at Northgate, which this year featured performances honoring Indian, African American, and Afghan cultures.

Fisher called it an unprecedented “celebration of diversity” and noted that many of the leaders of this celebration are transfer or minority students, whose attendance status may be threatened by a district change.

“My concerns are, with this new proposal, that there will be less transfer students being able to continue the expansion of diversity,” stated Fisher. “The argument that virtually the same number of spots would exist for transfer and minority students is inaccurate…because all Bancroft students would be going to Northgate.”

A statement published by NCAPS on its website in response to the public hearings refuted claims of reduced diversity. “Under the California Education Code, those students, who are now intradistrict transfers, would become inter-district transfers after NUSD becomes its own district,” the article stated.

“Under that code, if a student finds a place in another district – and we have made it clear that NUSD would have places available for transfer students – it is up to the home district to give permission for the student to transfer.  In other words, MDUSD could prevent all of the so-called ‘disruption’ from occurring, by simply allowing families to exercise the same choices that they have now.”

Based upon this argument, the new district would be significantly less racially and economically diverse than MDUSD, however, the individual school composition of Northgate and included schools would remain virtually the same.

Sophomore Lucy Siale boldly stated concerns over the impact to students and alleged that separation from the district is “elitist.”

“I am here speaking proudly because I do not want us to fail in addressing the underlying classism and segregation apparent in the formation of the new school district,” stated Siale.

“Making this decision that will dramatically affect teachers, students, and Special Education peers, while not being a part of any of those groups, is an act of entitlement, and I don’t understand how some of you can assume what is best for me and my fellow students without even asking us,” said Siale.

Although no students spoke publicly at the hearing in favor of the creation of the new district, one student said at an April 18 public input hearing before the Walnut Creek City Council that there are students who support a smaller local district. After that hearing, at which over 100 people spoke, council members voted in support of the proposal moving toward county consideration of a public vote.

Meanwhile, on May 3 a parent stated his support for a new district based on the belief that education and accountability could be improved.

“I applaud the schools. My support for the Northgate Unified School District comes from the fact that they can be better,” said the man, who identified himself as a 22-year resident of Walnut Creek.

His words echoed many who support the creation of a new district and NCAPS, which posted the following statement after the pair of hearings: “After fighting for so long to escape the control of MDUSD, the founders of Northgate CAPS have no interest in creating another district that constrains parent choices,” read the statement, posted on the NCAPS website.

Although those present expressed widely varying perspectives, many said later the atmosphere was respectful and conducive to healthy discourse.

“I was pleased with how everyone spoke,” physics teacher Kipp Penovich said. “This was an environment where everyone was able to say what they wanted to say, and I did not feel there was hostility between the two sides.”

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Students and teachers debate new district at public hearing of Board of Education