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Kenwood Academy’s Attendance Boundaries Have Been The Same Since The ’60s. A State Bill May Change That

Chicago Public Schools would routinely review its schools' attendance territories under a bill awaiting Gov. JB Pritzker's signature. "I would like to see students allowed to go to school in their neighborhoods," Rep. Curtis Tarver said.

Kenwood Academy High School, 5015 S. Blackstone Ave.
Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago
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KENWOOD — A bill inspired in part by Kenwood High School’s decades-old attendance boundaries unanimously passed the state Legislature and will spur Chicago Public Schools to review and rationalize how the district decides where students attend school.

House Bill 4580, introduced by Rep. Curtis Tarver, requires CPS to evaluate all schools’ enrollments every five years and determine whether their attendance territories need to be changed. The bill awaits Gov. JB Pritzker’s signature.

The bill’s creation was in part spurred by North Kenwood residents who, in some cases, live just a few blocks from Kenwood Academy but have to test into its magnet program or commute a couple miles to Dyett High School, Tarver said. His push to enact the bill into law was first reported by the Hyde Park Herald.

“The goal is simply that I would like to see students allowed to go to school in their neighborhoods,” Tarver said. “If there’s a reason for not allowing that, then CPS should make that public and we should have a conversation about it.”

Kenwood Academy’s attendance boundaries, which stretch from 47th to 60th streets and from Cottage Grove Avenue to the lake, have not changed since it opened in 1969, Tarver said.

Constituents have long complained about their children being unable to attend a school named after their home community, he said.

“CPS has taken it upon itself to say that it’s never been necessary since the year after Martin Luther King was shot and killed … to look at school boundaries and determine if they need to be remapped,” Tarver said.

If the bill is signed into law, CPS’ planning department would recommend to the district’s CEO and the Chicago Board of Education whether attendance boundaries should change, and how.

The planning department would consider schools’ capacities, racial and ethnic demographics and students’ commute times, among other factors, in its recommendations, and it would write a report explaining how it evaluated those factors.

If the department determines the district should adjust school boundaries, it would recommend at least two alternatives to the CPS CEO. The CEO could also suggest alternatives before making a recommendation to the school board, along with a report on all the proposals that were considered.

The school board would then share the planning department’s and CEO’s reports and hold public hearings before making a final decision on the attendance boundaries.

The district’s policy says its planning department should review whether boundaries should be changed “as necessary.” By enacting the bill into law without the “as necessary” language, the state can force the district to regularly review its boundaries and seek public input, Tarver said.

“CPS may have a very valid reason” for why it hasn’t remapped schools like Kenwood for decades, Tarver said. “But if that’s the case, they need to do their job and at least explain why the schools have not been remapped. … This is no longer a [district] policy; this will be state law.”

Tarver hasn’t heard from Pritzker’s office about if and when the governor will approve the bill, but “if he doesn’t sign or veto within [60 days], it’s going to become law anyways,” Tarver said.

CPS supports the bill becoming law, and the district will work to comply with the bill if it’s approved, spokesperson Sylvia Barragan said in a statement.

Particularly after remapping congressional, state legislative and judicial districts in 2021, “everybody recognizes” demographic changes should determine how resources are allocated and how maps should be drawn, Tarver said when asked why the bill so easily passed the Legislature.

Legislators “understood that 50 to 60 years is enough time to give one school district the ability to look at their boundaries,” Tarver said.

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