Madison Parents Seek Court Order to Open Enroll into Monona Grove School District

Andy Hall:


Madison resident Allison Cizek, 5, is about to enter kindergarten, but a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that restricts the use of race in assigning children to schools may influence which school district she attends.
Allison ‘s parents, Jeff and Jennifer Cizek, filed a petition in Dane County Circuit Court on Thursday seeking an immediate court order that would allow her to attend Taylor Prairie School in the Monona Grove School District this fall.
“I wouldn ‘t be spending money on this if it wasn ‘t important to me, ” Jeff Cizek said Friday evening.
“The color of a person ‘s skin doesn ‘t matter. They should all be treated the same. ”
The family ‘s attempts to transfer Allison from Madison to Monona Grove have been rejected by Madison School District officials who ruled that because she is white, her departure would increase racial imbalance in her Madison school.
Allison ‘s family lives on Madison ‘s Southwest Side in the 2800 block of Muir Field Road. The home is in the Madison School District ‘s Huegel Elementary attendance area.
But her mother teaches in the Monona Grove School District, and last year Allison attended a pre-kindergarten program in that district east of Madison.

15 thoughts on “Madison Parents Seek Court Order to Open Enroll into Monona Grove School District”

  1. I first saw this comment of Art’s in a news article written just after the Supreme Court decision. He said that MMSD will not be affected by this decision, except possibly with regards to open enrollment, because MMSD school boundaries are not drawn based on race.
    But (if I am reading MMSD budget and some other documents on this topic correctly) MMSD gets about half a million dollars a year from Chapter 220 Integration Aids. It’s a per student subsidy based on MMSD putting children who are not white next to children who are white and it’s for Midvale-Lincoln and Franklin-Randall. I didn’t live in Madison at the time, but weren’t those schools organized in their current configurations specifically to deflect accusations of segregation?? Of course, if chapter 220 falls in the wake of the decision and MMSD loses that money, then they can say the boundaries are not based on race, but on poverty. I don’t understand how they can say this while taking part in the program and receiving the money.
    Will somebody please correct me if I am misunderstanding things here?

  2. I was around when the pairings were born; they came into being to head off a threatened lawsuit. Of course, the agreement was never really enforceable, not by parents at least, as one of the promises was the schools would not be allowed to rise above a threshold number of at risk children, numbers greatly exceeded in subsequent years.
    I suspect in light of the recent SCt decision, we’ll just see a revision from race to poverty as the criterion by which MMSD makes various decisions, be it boundary or open enrollment. It will be years before there is another judicial review on whether this comports with equal protection. For the record, I’m with Justice Breyer in his dissent on this.

  3. Joan:
    You’re the lawyer, and I’m not, so I wade into this discussion with some trepidation, but…
    I’m not sure MMSD’s redrawing (or keeping, to the extent they might be able to do that) of school boundary lines based on poverty (as opposed to race) would have any impact on this or other open enrollment applications in the future. MMSD makes decisions on open enrollment based on state statutues, and the guiding force behind its ability to deny open enrollment transfer requests is based (and I think I’ve got this right) solely on race. That’s because that’s how the ability to deny is defined in state law — it’s a race-based denial, not a poverty-based (or other criteria) denial. MMSD, unique among districts in Dane County, can deny open enrollment transfer requests because it’s the only district in the area to receive Chap. 220 desegregation aid. The open enrollment law allows Chap. 220 districts to deny transfers based on race (such as the example pointed out in the article, e.g., if the request from a student in a particular school-attendance area would result in a greater percentage in minority students at that attendance boundary’s school.)
    MMSD can surely redraw its boundaries based on poverty, but I’m not sure it could then continue to deny open enrollment transfers based on poverty. The state open enrollment law allows denials based on race. It seems the law would have to be rewritten to allow denials based on poverty.

  4. Our request to enroll our homeschooled sixth-grade son in another district’s online school was denied because of this statute, even though our son has never set foot in Cherokee Middle School as an enrolled student. But to take advantage of the open enrollment option (which, by the way, brings money to the home district as well as to the transfer district), he would first need to be officially enrolled as a full-time MMSD student before being transferred through the open enrollment program, and there’s the rub.
    Because Cherokee is one of many MMSD schools considered to have too high a ratio of minority students to white students, the white students are not allowed to leave using the open enrollment option. Nowhere in WI DPI’s open enrollment brochures or website information is this issue affecting a few white students spelled out in adequate detail to figure out that this problem is going to apply to your kid, especially your kid who’s not even attending public school. So it’s quite a surprise to get that reject letter, and to realize that your kid is not being allowed to benefit from a public school system because he’s the wrong race. I mean, huh? MMSD would rather we’d homeschool him than allow him to transfer because it’s going to mess up their racial balance numbers? But I had it on excellent authority from MMSD’s (always very helpful) registrar that I had absolutely no grounds for appealing, because the rule was being applied exactly as written. So the problem is really with the rule, not with how it’s applied. It’s a rule that systematically discriminates against one class of people: white students in schools with more than a certain percentage of minority student enrollment. The white students are held hostage, so to speak, to the school to keep the racial ratio as balanced as possible.
    In fact, according to a person I consulted at the Wisconsin DPI, MMSD is the only school district in the state, including Milwaukee, that is choosing to apply this statute to deny transfers based on race. Students in other districts with racial imbalances are able to move from school to school more freely. So white kids in Madison’s schools with more than a certain percentage of minority kids–I believe it is 40 percent–are pretty much the only kids in the state who are unable to use the open enrollment program to freely choose the school system that best suits their needs.
    It’s a very, very frustrating situation, regardless of the reason why one wishes to take advantage of the open enrollment option, whether for academic reasons, like us, or enhancing family togetherness, like the Cizeks. The point is, one would like to be able to choose just like any other family in any other attendance area.

  5. I’m no expert in this, if any other posts I’ve made here didn’t already make that fact abundantly clear. I was primarily addressing the pairing question.
    Thanks very much for the clarification re: race and open enrollment in MMSD. This open enrollment lawsuit may necessarily then require a decision on the constitutionality of Ch 220 and, as Celeste so astutely noted, might very well sound the end of those funds for the district.

  6. Turning down internal and external transfers due to racial balance has been going on for at least 3 years. The parents I know that have been denied transfers either move, enroll in private school, or borrow addresses. The first takes kids out of the district. The third requires parents to teach their kids to lie. No one that I know of has stayed at the original school after applying for and being denied a transfer. This is not a policy that produces the desired results. I will be interested to see what happens with the suit.

  7. That’s really interesting. I didn’t realize that a district could choose not to apply the statute. I thought that any district which is part of Chapter 220 is obliged by law to deny transfers which upset racial balance.
    This is secondhand, but another parent recently told me that her request to open enroll her child out of MMSD into Verona was denied because of racial balance, but the reverse situation. They attend a mostly white school and the child is of a minority race. Has anyone else heard of this happening?
    Also, in regards to the pairing of schools, I was not taking a postion about whether that is a desirable thing to do or not. The bussing costs a good amount of money, but it may be that it is worth it if the district is getting good results. I don’t know enough to have an opinion. What I was addressing was the question of whether Art was telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth in his comments.

  8. Interesting and disturbing news to a Midvale attendance area resident with a child due to enter Midvale/Lincoln in 2008.
    Does anyone know the vintage of the demographic data used for Chapter 220 funding decision-making, and how frequently an updated census is taken (if at all)?
    Given the drastic increase in property values and general lack of affordable single-family housing on the Near West Side, I would find it difficult to believe the current Franklin/Randall demographic data could be used to depict the area as either poor or non-white.
    Our (Westmorland) property values have increased significantly over the time of the pairings, but certainly not to the extent of Franklin/Randall’s. Midvale/Lincoln’s current demographics would also be somewhat influenced by new single-family housing developments in Fitchburg.
    I hadn’t heard about the ‘address borrowing’ that Momanonymous refers to in her post, but I know many non-Catholic folks in our area are sending their kids to Queen of Peace, Blessed Sacrament or Edgewood, or are just plain leaving. Many in our area want to send our children to their neighborhood school (Midvale or Lincoln), but do not want to make our children commute to the paired school.
    These posts support my opinion that the MMSD likes that the Midvale attendance area has a high percentage of private and parochial school children (and, yes, some home-schooled children), and would like to keep it that way.

  9. I checked some reports on the DPI website and Jennie is correct that MMSD is the only district denying transfers based on racial balance. In 03-04 MMSD had 12 and in 04-05 they had 63. In both years that was also the total for the entire state. These were the most recent years for which reports were posted. No other district in Chapter 220 had even 1 race based denial. I know these numbers have risen in the past 2 years, since I have looked at similar data before, I think on DPI, although I can’t find it there anymore. I believe that the past 2 years the numbers were in the low to mid 100’s.

  10. This is really interesting Celeste. On the transfer form parents have to write why they want to transfer. Does anyone know if that information is available?

  11. Seems it would save the district a lot of time to have a form that says, name…race…and then right away the decision would be made with a heck of alot less paperwork! And I understood that it wouldn’t matter where your attendance school was, ANY children who are white will not be given open enrollment due to racial balance (or imbalance) in the district-but I could be wrong.
    But, Momanonymous, I bet we could get that data about why parents are requesting open enrollment-even though it doesn’t matter why to the district. It would be interesting. I stated on my request that the program options for kids in TAG were more plentiful at the school we wanted to open enroll to…now we are out of the district-so didn’t do them much good to deny us.

  12. I think one reason the form asks why the parents are requesting the transfer is to identify situations where the student needs a special education program that the new district either doesn’t offer or can’t provide to students beyond its own residents because of budget or staff limitations. Those cases could be cause for the transfer district to refuse the request. I don’t think the residential district can refuse transfer requests because it doesn’t agree with the parents’ reasons.
    We also learned that MMSD will not override transfer denials because it judges that the parents’ reasons are more important than maintaining its racial balance, based on our earlier transfer request experience.
    The transfer denial request we experienced this year was actually our second. The first was in 2005, when our son was in fourth grade in an MMSD school. We appealed the denial based on MMSD’s virtually non-existent TAG programming compared to the deeper curriculum and accelerated pace available through the Wisconsin Virtual Academy. The judgment was that the child’s academic interests played no role in making the transfer decision; only his race in relationship to his school attendance area.
    According to Jeannie Retelle, the registrar, if we lived in another attendance area within Madison that was not over the undesirable minority attendance percentage, the transfer request would have been approved. She said that both in spring of 2005 and in May of this year.
    Rather than move from a bikeable commute for my husband and a house and neighborhood our family enjoys, we chose to begin homeschooling in 2005. As mentioned in our earlier post, we were also unable to successfully request a transfer as homeschoolers.

  13. Don’t they have rules regarding open enrollment transfers when the reason for transferring is purely athletic? And what about folks in Monona who attend Lafollette instead of Monona Grove High School- does Monona not consider race because it’s not an issue there?

  14. David:
    New rules put in place by the WIAA will have some impact on open enrollment transfers. This is a generalization, but students must establish their “district of residency” — or language something similar to that — by the end of the 1st semester of their sophomore year. If they transfer via open enrollment to another district after that, they have to sit out a year of athletic competition. So, if athlete Jane has completed her freshman year at District A, and wants to open enroll in a District B after her freshman year, she won’t lose a year of eligibility. But if she has completed her sophomore year, and wants to open enroll in District B, she’d have to sit out her junior year (which, for a lot of serious athletes, is probably a pretty strong dis-incentive for transferring). The new rule applies to all WIAA membership schools, so it covers both open enrollment students between public schools, and students who opt to attend a private school (or move from a private to a public school, or between private schools).
    As for the LaFollete-MG example, I think it’s important to understand the nature of the open enrollment law, and how Chap. 220 districts play a role in it. The law itself is not permissive; that is, districts are required to accept open enrollment requests, absent a specific exclusion cited in the law (the two most common ones are districts not accepting students with exceptional special education needs, and not accepting students because they will lead to over-enrolled class sizes). So, if a student applies, and the district has room, and the student doesn’t have exceptional needs, the district has to accept them.
    Chap. 220 districts are uniquely allowed, under the law, to deny students from leaving the district, using the racial criteria discussed above (Chap. 220 districts are also allowed to refuse open enrollment applicants if doing so would increase a particular school’s percentage of minority students). All districts in Dane County are required to accept open enrollment applicants; only MMSD in the county can keep them from leaving.

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