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KIDS CHANGE EVERYTHING

Despite I-200, Preferences Linger On

IT'S NO SURPRISE THAT THE ONLY county in Washington to vote against last year's anti-affirmative action initiative, I-200, was King County. Well, like a true sore loser, Seattle may be flouting the state law in its public school system. I-200 made it illegal to "discriminate against or grant preferential treatment to any individual... on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin." But according to Lynn Steinberg, a spokeswoman for Seattle Public Schools, race is used--along with five other factors--as a tie-breaking criteria when there is more demand for a certain school than seats available.

The race-based school admission policy--which appears to fly in the face of I-200 and its 58 percent victory at the polls last November--came to light last month, thanks to an upset Magnolia neighborhood mother named Maureen Spracklin. When her daughter was turned down at Blaine Elementary (which provides middle-school classes), Spracklin, who is white, went to the enrollment services board. "I was bawling my head off," she says. "I was told all the kids ahead of [my daughter] were 'integration positive'."

"This is begging for a lawsuit," says John Carlson, who headed up last year's I-200 campaign. "This is a slam dunk. The school district's practice of using race as a factor in school admissions is an obvious, if not brazen, violation of the law."

Spracklin, a 44-year-old nurse, is clearly a poster darling for I-200 supporters: Her child, labeled integration negative--meaning she tipped the student population scale too heavily in favor of white students--was denied entrance to a school just six blocks from her house. In fact, she can see Blaine from her windows at home. Spracklin, a self-professed liberal who says she's "not in with those people at I-200," is a poster child for something else as well: the hypocrisy of white Seattleites who don't walk their talk on race and education issues.

Spracklin chose Blaine for her middle-school-aged daughter, she says, to avoid sending her to McClure, another neighborhood school, which has a history of academic and disciplinary problems. "McClure wasn't good for [my daughter]," she says. More to the point, Blaine's student population is 66.1 percent white and 9.2 percent black. McClure's student body is 40.3 percent white and 22.5 percent black. "Just because we didn't pick a certain school, it doesn't mean it's a bad school--it's just not best for our kid," Spracklin says. Angst-ridden over the situation, she adds, "I don't feel I'm a racist. It's just really weird when, man, it's your kid."

After her daughter was denied at Blaine, Spracklin wrote a letter to the appeals department. She also contacted her school board representative, and after her written appeal was denied, she forced the board to schedule a hearing.

Like any obsessed parent trying to get her kid into the right school, Spracklin played every possible card. She eventually contacted the Washington Institute Foundation (WIF), a "free-market" think tank that issues reports on property taxes, privatization of government functions, crime, and--you guessed it--Initiative 200. John Carlson, chairman of last year's I-200 campaign, is on WIF's board of directors. On June 8, Spracklin was featured in a WIF press release entitled, "New Report Shows Seattle Schools Use Race to Assign Students." As a result, Spracklin was contacted by KOMO TV and The Seattle Times.

The Stranger got a hold of excerpts from Spracklin's appeals letters, and despite what she told us--that she "doesn't want to be considered a supporter of I-200"--she certainly relies on the controversial initiative in her appeal: "Recently the voters passed I-200, which supposedly eliminated racial criteria from public policy in hiring, admission to schools, administration contracts, etc. So why is this even an issue for determining middle-school assignment?... Where is the social justice in this?"

Spracklin acknowledges that her position is hypocritical. "I supported busing in the '70s," she says, "when I was a single person. But when you have your own kid...." Seattle schools ended busing during the '96-'97 school year.

As for Seattle's public schools, officials maintain that they aren't violating the voters' will on I-200. Schools spokesperson Steinberg says the initiative is intended to prevent less-qualified people from edging out qualified people based on race. She says that doesn't apply to decisions about school assignment when the candidates are equally qualified. The purpose of the "integration tie-breaker" criteria, she says, "is to promote diversity and prevent racial segregation. That's within the district's right to decide."

Maybe, but the school board's legal department is currently evaluating their tie-breaking policy to see whether it complies with I-200, according to the board's vice president, Don Nielsen. Spracklin, who contacted Nielsen about her case, is considering getting an attorney.

 

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