EL superintendent defends Red Cedar decision

Nov 28, 2011

The East Lansing school district is preparing for a federal review of allegations of racial bias. The review was triggered by a complaint that its decision to close Red Cedar Elementary School will disproportionately harm students of color at the school.  District officials defend their decision by pointing to various demographic patterns-mainly one that shows a declining student population in the neighborhood. 

WKAR's Mark Bashore sat down with East Lansing Superintendent Dave Chapin for an update.  Chapin says he remains confident the plan to shutter the school in 2016, though difficult, is still the best one.

Dr. Dave Chapin:  We believe that the decision was based on demographics-primarily, where are our students?  And the current census data and our current enrollment data would show that the students of school age are north of Grand River and they're not south of Grand River as they once were.  Because there are simply fewer housing options south of Grand River now than there once were.  And there's more on the north side of town.

Mark Bashore:  Have you got a handle on how much resistance throughout the community you face on this?  Is this isolated or is it wider spread than you would have thought?

Chapin:  Well, I think our community, and I'm a member of the community, I think our community likes for things to run smoothly, without publicity, good strong test scores, great teachers.  So a chapter like this that is counterintuitive to that kind of thinking, I think is troublesome for a community.  And as a result, it's been troublesome for me.  I've maintained all along that it's irresponsible for us to avoid a conversation that doesn't allow us a look at our facilities, that doesn't allow us to look at a February bond issue.

With the conversation comes reaction, pushback.  And all of those things are healthy--or maybe necessary--in terms of moving forward.  But I think this is a very bright, very smart community and in order to move forward, in order to do that, it does take some more difficult discussions and some more difficult decision making and that's exactly what we're experiencing at present.

Bashore:  You've been at the top here in East Lansing for eight years, but you've been a school administrator for 32 years.  I'm curious how this complaint affects you.  It's a serious allegation.  How do you process it professionally and even personally?

Chapin:  Well, I think that's a very fair question. It would be dishonest of me to say that an issue like this doesn't affect me, (that) I didn't think about it. Sure I think about it.  I suppose I sleep fairly well because I don't believe that there were any missteps within our school district in terms of something that the Office of Civil Rights would find issue with.  We've filed a very significant notebook of information about our process and how we arrived at the decision that we did, all very publicly.  At the end of the day, the Office of Civil Rights will validate our process and determine that the decision was not based on white versus non-white students.  And if they find differently than that, then we will certainly respect the Office of Civil Rights and any input that they might provide to our school district.  Absolutely.