‘Breaking Up Our Family:' Concord Elementary School Would See Exodus of Students, Teachers Under Redistricting Proposal, Principal Says

Highlands Elementary School in Concord stands to lose about half of its students and eliminate at least 15 teaching positions if a controversial proposal to split the Mt. Diablo Unified School District is successful, according to the school’s principal. 

Principal Ryan Sheehy warned in a letter to the campus community that the redistricting proposal, in which five affluent schools secede from Mt. Diablo to form a new district, would severely disrupt the elementary school’s programs and resources. 

“Specialized programs that are centrally-funded would be reduced,” he wrote. “Some programs, including certain Special Education services, would be severely impacted as they would be moved to other MDUSD schools or possibly be eliminated.” 

The school has 26 teachers and about 600 students. 

Under the proposed secession, which is being spearheaded by a group of Walnut Creek parents, a new Northgate Unified School District would be comprised of Valle Verde, Walnut Acres and Bancroft elementary schools, as well as Foothill Middle and Northgate High School. 

Although Highlands would not be included in the new district, its current student feeder patterns would be drastically altered. About 300 students who currently live in Highlands territory would find themselves part of the new district, and would likely be required to switch to one of the aforementioned elementary schools, according to the district.  

Because the student population would dwindle under the plan, teaching positions would have to be reduced accordingly, Sheehy said.

In a phone interview with NBC Bay Area, Sheehy said he felt compelled to write the letter to get the word out about how the school would be directly impacted and to combat misinformation. He noted that there was a lot of anxiety at a school staff meeting earlier Wednesday about the issue. 

“At this point I thought it was very important to get the information out to our parent community,” he said. “We are a deeply affected campus. Not everyone understands the impact it will have on our school community.” 

“It’s essentially going to be breaking up our family,” he continued.

In a statement to NBC Bay Area, Northgate CAPS — the coalition supporting the district split — said that Sheehy's comments were "intended to scare parents into opposing NUSD, but they have no basis." 

According to the group, the Northgate Unified School District would allow students and parents a chance to choose which school to attend. 

"We would never force them to attend an NUSD school," said Jim Mills, a board member with Northgate CAPS. "MDUSD people sometimes have a difficult time understanding such a choice, since MDUSD does not allow outbound inter-district transfers to families who want to attend a public school outside the district."  

Because the proposal has not yet been approved by the Board of Education, it's unclear if students would, in fact, be able to remain at Highlands. 

As NBC Bay Area previously reported, the secession movement has stirred controversy and garnered national attention for what critics say are parallels to segregation. 

Following two public hearings earlier this month, the proposal is now under the consideration of the Contra Costa County Board of Education, which has 120 days to render a decision. If approved, the proposal will then move to the state’s Board of Education. If it passes that juncture, it will then appear on the ballot before voters.

If approved, the district split would be finalized in 2021.

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