Inside Nova: Department of Justice launches inquiry into 12th high school boundary plan

From InsideNova.comDepartment of Justice launches inquiry into 12th high school boundary plan

Posted: Thursday, May 22, 2014 6:03 pm | Updated: 6:26 pm, Thu May 22, 2014.

The U.S. Department of Justice has launched an inquiry after a complaint against Prince William County schools over attendance boundaries for the 12th high school.

The federal agency contacted school officials this week, said county schools spokesman Phil Kavits.

Kavits said he did not know the specifics of the complaint, just that the DOJ had begun an inquiry, the first step in an investigation. Kavits also said he didn’t know exactly what information has been requested from school officials.

“When somebody raises an issue with them, they need to look into it,” Kavits said of the federal department. “We will work with them and take seriously any questions they have.”

Efforts to reach DOJ officials about the complaint were not immediately successful Thursday morning.

The school division has been working on a boundary plan for the new high school, and six surrounding schools, for the past several weeks. A public hearing on the latest boundary proposal was held during the regular school board meeting Wednesday.

The new school is slated to open in the fall of 2016 near Va. 234 and Hoadly Road.

The school board is scheduled to make its final decision on the new boundaries June 4. Kavits said it was not yet clear whether the DOJ inquiry would alter that plan.

School division projections for the new boundary proposal estimate that the number of “economically disadvantaged” students — a measure of those who qualify for free and reduced lunch – would make up 9.4 percent of the 12th high school’s student body.

That’s the lowest percent of poor children at any Prince William County high school, although Brentsville High School comes close at 9.7 percent.

Racial diversity will be more balanced at the new school, with minority student enrollment projected at about 38 percent. Still, only Brentsville is lower, at 31 percent.

In a recent interview, school Superintendent Steven Walts said there has not been any effort to exclude lower-income neighborhoods, as some have claimed.

He said the boundary recommendation is the best staff could offer given the school’s proximity to other high schools and the objectives outlined in relevant school division policies.

“We believe it’s the best plan moving forward,” he said. “But ultimately it’s the board’s decision, so we’ll see.”