School Board hears Montessori complaint

Parents say decisions concerning the lottery process were made in violation of state laws

Posted: Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Juneau School Board heard a public complaint Tuesday from parents of current and would-be Montessori students who are upset that Juneau School District is holding open six spots for the Montessori elementary program, while 30 students are kept on a waitlist.

Montessori is an optional public program for students in first through eighth grade.

The School Board approved last April changing the lottery process for Montessori to make it more diverse. It's currently holding spots open for poorer students, those in special education or English learning programs, or those failing to meet core academic competencies. By law, the district can't hold spots open for any race.

Parents said decisions concerning the lottery process were made in violation of state open meeting laws, with no opportunity for parents to comment on the new lottery process. They also alleged the new procedures discriminate against the Montessori program, which has improved its diversity targets in recent years and has greater diversity than other optional programs.

"We're just asking that those spots get filled," said parent Stephanie Kohlhase, whose daughter is on the waiting list. "There's kids waiting on the list, they want to go."

District officials recommended that the slots be filled by those on the waiting list, but that the School Board revisit the issue and focus on how to make optional programs, like Montessori, more attractive to diverse students and their families.

"Frankly, I think our traditional methods have not been effective," said Assistant Superintendent Laury Scandling.

The School Board voted to have a special meeting soon to vote whether to fill the spots, and then a later meeting to discuss diversity issues in optional programs.

Some School Board members indicated that they were inclined to vote to fill the spots with students from the waitlist. Others indicated that they needed more information about how the Montessori program would increase its diversity if the spots weren't held for targeted students.

Also at Tuesday's meeting, two new School Board members, Sally Saddler and Ed Flanagan, were sworn in.

Mark Choate was unanimously approved as the new School Board president. Andi Story, the previous president, was named vice president, and Destiny Sargeant was named clerk.

• Contact reporter Alan Suderman at 523-2268 or e-mail

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