The level of student diversity is largely determined by a school’s attendance boundaries. A school in a racially isolated area will not only have a racially homogenous student body, but may reduce the overall diversity within the district by drawing off students from other, more integrated schools. Conversely, a school strategically sited to promote diversity can draw students from two or more racially isolated neighborhoods into a diverse school environment. Like school openings, school closures may exacerbate patterns of racial isolation by dispersing students to less diverse schools, making those other schools even less diverse. For example, if a well-integrated school closes, the white children from that school may go to a predominantly white school, and the minority children to the majority-minority school.
Strategic site selection for new schools or school closures may have a significant and lasting influence on student body diversity. Districts should conduct a diversity impact assessment for new schools by forecasting the student body based upon the demographics of likely enrollees, the proposed attendance zone, and any other relevant information. This process can help districts promote diversity and foster greater awareness of the issue within the district. These steps are consistent with federal law, and are explicitly mentioned as a permissible means of promoting student body diversity in Parents Involved. Such an approach is the least disruptive to individual students. It also has the most lasting impact for the least amount of effort (a one-time analysis), minimizing cost.
In contrast, integrative student assignment plans and redrawing attendance zones or boundaries are more likely to directly impact students who are assigned to attend a different school, sometimes further from home. This can lead to parental complaints about long bus rides and other inconveniences.
Demographic mapping can be used to project student assignment patterns based upon the selection of one school site opening or another, and the Kirwan Institute can assist districts in their internal evaluation.