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“Beverly Hills to Boot Non-District K-8 Pupils.”  I don’t know which disturbs me more: the headline or the “under-informed” (as opposed to “uninformed”) comments justifying the headline.

Briefly: “the Beverly Hills Unified School District (BHUSD) approved a controversial proposal Tuesday to boot out more than 400 out-of-district students.” (Edweek, 1/13/10).

I understand the pressures of budgeting in poor economic times (though I do not accept it). Is it worth displacing more than 400 children for the sake of water polo?

I agree with former Beverly Hills Mayor Tanenbaum and the 2600 residents who signed his petition asking that the non-district students be allowed to stay – “The children are not expendable. They are not financial assets.” Sadly, Beverly Hills Unified and those that support expelling the non-district children were unmoved.

But perhaps even more offense than the district’s decision are the “misinformed” opinions of those supporting the decision to expel the children:

"This is a community trying to take care of its own, and there’s nothing wrong with that," Genevieve Peters said.

Resident Lee Lewis said the argument that forcing students to switch schools would be harmful is baseless because children change schools all the time, for all sorts of reasons.

“Resident Lee Lewis” is only partially correct. Children do change schools for all sorts of reasons. However, it is not a harmless act. There are multiple studies confirming the negative effects of a forced change in schools on children. Red Orbit and Better Homes and Gardens present approachable summaries of the negative impact on children.

Decisions to displace a child from an environment where he or she feels nurtured and engaged are always made under great duress. It is always preferable to keep the child where he or she is when he or she is thriving.

To further illustrate the point, consider the fact that children’s bones heal faster than those of the elderly. However, knowing this doesn’t mean we knowingly break our children’s arms simply because we know their bones will heal. It is preferably the bone remain unbroken.

More insulting than Lee Lewis’ comment is Genevieve Peters’ comment that there is nothing wrong with “a community trying to take care of its own.” Like Lee, Genevieve’s comment demonstrates a dangerously limited and superficial understanding of the situation. While the overall idea of a community “taking care of its own” is not wrong, her understanding of community (as implied by the article) is overly simple (bordering on xenophobic).

The online Encyclopedia of Informal Education provides these three interacting definitions of community (by “interacting” I mean these definitions are not singular but often overlap):

Place… where people have something in common, and this shared element is understood geographically. Another way of naming this is as ‘locality’.

Interest… people share a common characteristic other than place. They are linked together by factors such as religious belief, sexual orientation, occupation or ethnic origin.

Communion… In its weakest form we can approach this as a sense of attachment to a place, group or idea (in other words, whether there is a ‘spirit of community’). In its strongest form ‘communion’ entails a profound meeting or encounter – not just with other people, but also with God and creation.

A school district by definition is not a true “place.” It only considers geography in its most simplified context. It is a set of arbitrarily drawn lines in the sand. However, a school district can become a community by carefully nurturing shared interests and communion.

BHUSD is not “taking care of its own” by ignoring its 2600 residents and expelling 400 plus students. The isolationist views expressed by those who supported its decision to displace the students are direct threats to the spirit of democracy we as educators and parents endeavor to impart to our students/children.

Personally, I am hoping the quotes included in the article were off the cuff and spoken out of frustration. I am hoping that they are not a deeper seated biased belief accidentally revealed in the heat of the argument. 

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