Attendance boundaries for four Little Village high schools will remain as currently drawn despite a recently passed referendum that calls for changing them, say officials of Chicago Public Schools.

Last month, voters passed an advisory referendum that calls for CPS to redraw attendance boundaries for the high schools and limit enrollment to Little Village residents. Existing boundaries for the schools encompass the western portion of Little Village, a Latino neighborhood, and a slice of North Lawndale, a predominantly African-American community.

The referendum, sponsored by state Sen. Martin Sandoval, was approved in a 55 percent to 45 percent vote.

Critics of the measure say it exploits racial and ethnic tensions at the expense of equal access to public schools. Jaime de Leon of the Little Village Community Development Corporation, which was instrumental in getting the district to build the Little Village high schools, charges that the referendum is “based on the notion that African-American students from North Lawndale are taking slots that should go to [Latino] kids from Little Village.”

Prexy Nesbitt, a multiculturalism and diversity expert who is serving as a consultant to Little Village High Schools, argues that Sandoval “turned to race-baited information to try to win political capital.”

In last month’s primary, Sandoval beat challenger Eduardo Garza in a hotly contested race.

After the referendum passed, Principal Rito Martinez of Little Village’s School for Social Justice posted a letter to the school’s web site that said: “We will not stand for the countless lies and divisive racial tactics being waged toward our school. [Attendance boundaries] will not change. We believe in a school that can provide a safe, nurturing, and hopeful place for students from Little Village and North Lawndale.”

CPS officials insist that the referendum will have no bearing on decisions related to who is admitted to Little Village high schools. “The chances of the Board approving any Little Village high school boundary change prior to the beginning of the [next] school year are very small,” says James Dispensa, CPS director of demographics and planning.

The district expects that at least 90 percent of next year’s freshmen will live in the schools’ attendance area, and if any seats need to be filled, a lottery will be held, as was done last year, Dispensa explains.

A move to limit enrollment to Little Village residents would work against a mandate to promote desegregation in the district, notes Dispensa. This year, the student population is 71 percent Latino and 28 percent African-American.

Like other start-ups, Little Village opened this year with 400 freshmen, 100 in each of the four small high schools, and plans to add another grade each year until it enrolls 1,400 students through 12th grade.

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