Shawnee Mission school leaders approve changes to district boundaries

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- A strong decision was made at one local school district in Johnson County.

Late Thursday afternoon, Shawnee Mission School District board members voted 5-2 to approve proposed changes to district boundaries -- diving lines which determine where students attend school based on their home addresses.

News of the approved plans may come as a relief to parents at Rising Star Elementary School. That Lenexa-based school's community, as well as attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union, were concerned about the number of free-and-reduced lunch students in the school's student body.

The SMSD board's decision is of focused interest for families at elementary schools that sit west of Interstate 35, especially at Rising Star. Thursday's decision lowers the number of students eligible for free-and-reduced lunches from 54 percent of the student body to only 51 percent. The ACLU and parents at Rising Star have voiced concerns over a separate proposal that could have raised that total to 63 percent, but in the end, that set of proposed boundaries was rejected.

"Rising Star, going forward, will remain pretty stable compared to where they have been in the past. Plan B is what would have changed Rising Star," Dr. Michelle Hubbard, SMSD Assistant Superintendent, said.

Thursday's meeting didn't include a large contingent of parents, since it was not a regularly-scheduled school board meeting. One parent, Jennifer Howerton, told reporters she represents a group called Education First Shawnee Mission​, a watchdog group that aspires to improve and defend SMSD schools. She says she's also the mother of a kindergarten student within the district.

"(This decision) shows the school board knows the community is involved and they know the community is watching and listening and they want their voices to be heard. In the future, I hope they continue to communicate with us," Howerton said.

Dr. Hubbard says these changes won't take place until the 2018-2019 school year. Several school board members commented on what an emotional decision-making process this has been.

"There are families upset about this," Dr. Hubbard told reporters. "It's emotional for families when you make a boundary change and kids have to change schools. We always take that into consideration."

"It's tough. I understand that," Patty Mach, SMSD Board Member, said. "I know, no matter what happens, all our students will be taken care of."

Another board members commented on the difficult adjustment many families who'll change schools might experience during the upcoming transitional period, and life may not seem normal until they find their new communities.