schools.jpgMore than a dozen people huddled in front of San Francisco’s City Hall Wednesday to discuss discontent with a recently adopted local school district policy, which gives lower priority of putting children in schools near their homes.

The San Francisco school board approved a new student assignment system last year that was meant to move away from older selection techniques, which included looking at a home’s income level.

The new process–used for the first time last month–allowed families to choose where they wanted their children to go to school instead of parents receiving assignments that they were unable to influence.

But if a school has more applicants than spaces available, officials look at a series of criteria called tiebreakers to decide which student should receive higher preference.

The tiebreakers are different for elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools.

Only elementary schools have a tiebreaker that looks at a child’s home in relation to its distance from schools, and it is the fourth most influential tiebreaker on the list.

“By the time schools get to the fourth tiebreaker, there may not be space for some children,” said Chris Miller, a single mother of two children in San Francisco.

Miller’s daughter, 10, will be attending Marina Middle School in the fall despite Miller’s stated desire for her to go to Presidio Middle School.

“Marina is a great school, but it’s not so great for a single mom when Presidio is so much closer.”

Her 4-year-old son will be attending preschool in a location not close to Presidio.

An entire list of the tiebreakers is available in the “Frequently Asked Sections” portion of the school district’s website at

Fewer than 3,500 families in San Francisco chose schools that were nearest to their homes for the latest assignment round on March 15, school district spokeswoman Gentle Blythe said.

“We’ve had a quieter response from the selection process this year than in previous years,” she said.

Blythe said the district was aware of concerns raised by Miller’s group, Students First, about reprioritizing the selection process for San Francisco schools.

But no plans have been made to revise that process as a result of Students First actions.

“The board’s goal is to reverse the trend of racial isolation and reduce the concentration of underserved students,” Blythe said.

At Wednesday’s news conference in front of City Hall, Students First organizers discussed an initiative that will appear on the ballot of the November mayoral elections.

If passed, the initiative won’t directly impact policy local policy, but it will urge the school district to reprioritize the selection process and allow children to attend schools closer to their homes.

Saul Sugarman, Bay City News

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