The process of changing school boundaries for DC Public Schools (DCPS) is about to begin.
On March 21 the Mayor’s office announced the launch of the Boundary and Student Assignment Study 2023, or Boundary Study, through the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education (DME). The study will review boundaries and feeder patterns and District-wide public school student assignment policies.
It’s the first update to school by-right attendance boundaries since 2013-2014, when DC undertook its first comprehensive review of boundaries in 40 years. DME is running a Master Facilities Plan study at the same time and both studies will share foundational information. Any potential boundary modifications and feeder recommendations would take effect no sooner than School Year 2025-26, i.e. August of 2025.
“We are embarking on a city-wide planning process that will provide strategic, data-informed recommendations to ensure more students have access to great schools and facilities that meet their needs,” said Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn.
The process will be essential to the ongoing work to not only recover from the negative repercussions of the Covid pandemic, but to continue efforts to close the opportunity gap, Kihn added. “We know that residents will have strong thoughts and feedback, and we look forward to engaging directly with families, educators, and stakeholders over the coming weeks and months,” he said.
What This Means
DC law requires each child to be assigned to a school, determined by lines drawn around the area in which they live. That school is called the “boundary” school or “by-right” school. Students have the right to attend the boundary school if they live in-bounds, or within the area designated. Feeder patterns determine which middle school and then high school students have the right to attend based on what by-right school they are coming from.
Find your current boundary school and feeder pattern online at enrolldcps.dc.gov/node/41
The law requires a boundary study to be conducted in 2023 and every ten years afterward, re-examining the area boundaries, feeder patterns, the capacity of schools and whether all students have equitable access to high-quality DCPS schools. It will balance overcrowded and underutilized schools, balance unequal or problematic feeder programs, look at early childhood learning opportunities and address equity and diversity in the schools.
The process is long and changes won’t take effect until fall 2025. Your student, if you have one, will have completed two full school years by then.
DME has indicated that this process is likely to follow the same phase-in processes used in 2013 (see https://dcps.dc.gov/publication/boundaries-and-feeder-pattern-changes-faq). By those rules, if your school boundaries change but your child was attending their old in-boundary school in spring 2025, they could continue there in fall or choose the new in-boundary school. If they ever opt out of their old school, they can’t go back. If the 2013 rules are followed, this choice will also apply to incoming students with a sibling at the old in-boundary school, but only for the first year (projected to be 2025-26).
The same rule would apply to feeder patterns. If a student were to enter middle or high school in fall 2025 and their feeder pattern had changed, they could choose between either the old or new by-right upper school —but the choice is available only for that year.
This will change things for those who bought a home thinking it was in-bounds for a particular school or who have an eldest or only child that will not yet be school-aged or is not in DCPS before fall 2025. In these circumstances, if the school boundaries change, the child’s presumed school will change. The old in-boundary school could now be entered by DC School Lottery.
Students who are already at a DCPS school, including those who have entered a school through the DC School Lottery, will not be reassigned because of boundary changes. If your child is at a charter or private school, their by-right school is now the new boundary school; the change doesn’t affect them unless they withdraw from the current, non-DCPS school. If their by-right school changes, it will only affect them if they withdraw from that institution and need another place to learn. Their by-right/in-bounds school is supposed to take them.
Public Opinion and Town Hall Meetings
The public has a chance to weigh-in on changes, Kihn added. There will be three rounds of District-wide town halls, an Advisory Committee, engagement with school-specific communities, a boundary study website for information sharing and collecting feedback and ongoing participation at meetings and events. The process is modeled on the 2013-14 adjustment to boundaries.
DME has contracted with a team led by Perkins Eastman, including WXY Studio, LINK Strategic Partners and The DC Policy Center to support both studies. They will hold three rounds of District-wide town halls for both the Boundary Study and MFP 2023 over the course of the year (spring, early summer, and fall). School communities and residents will be encouraged to attend. Information regarding the town halls will be posted on the DME site and shared via social media.
As part of the launch of the Boundary Study, the DME also announced membership of the Advisory Committee on Student Assignment. The Advisory Committee is composed of education stakeholders from all eight wards who will meet monthly to create recommendations for attendance zones, feeder patterns, and school assignment policies. Members of the Advisory Committee were recommended by education stakeholders and selected by the DME to reflect Washington, DC’s public school education system, including ward of residence and enrollment preferences.
Meetings will be live streamed and open to the public. Information regarding the Advisory Committee members, meetings, and materials are posted to https://dme.dc.gov/boundaries2023.
There are two Ward 6 members of the committee, both members of Parents Amplifying Voices in Education (PAVE). Crystal Gray is a member of the Watkins ES PTA and Equity Team, as well as PAVE’s Citywide/Ward 6 Board. The other Ward 6 resident is Payne Elementary parent Carolyn Bowen, a former teacher/special education coordinator and American Planning Association member.
The first Advisory Committee meeting took place on March 30, 2023, focusing on the committee’s charge and the goals of the project. The next meeting has yet to be announced.