An email with a concern about the kindergarten classes at John Diemer Elementary School was sent to the Shawnee Mission School Board on August 11, four days before the first day of school. District parent Jemma Radick, who wrote the email, was concerned about the distribution of minority students throughout the kindergarten classes.
On Sept. 7, Shawnee Mission Director of Communications Erin Little told the Shawnee Mission Post that the district is unable to publish the rosters of the original kindergarten classes at John Diemer Elementary School.
According to Radick, one of the original classes was made up of 17 students: 9 of these students were latino, and 3 were African American. The other classes were all white.
Radick was unclear about the reason the classes were segregated, speculating in her email that it could have been for English as a Second Language (ESL) purposes. There is one ESL certified kindergarten teacher at John Diemer, and it was into this teacher’s class that all of the minority students were placed, Radick said.
“Some of the children were placed with the ESL teacher because they needed ESL help,” Radick said. “But I think that other children were placed with the ESL teacher because it was assumed, based on the color of their skin, that they would not have sufficient English skills.”
In an email correspondence made public by a Kansas Open Records Act filed by the Shawnee Mission Post, Gruman stated that the JumpStart program, and the demographics within the program, might have a correlation to the segregation. JumpStart is a program that allows a small group of children to come to school and start learning for three weeks in July, in order to help build confidence and leadership among them.
“The issue here might be related to JumpStart, and the fact that we try to keep JS children with their kindergarten teachers,” Gruman wrote, “…and that JS has a higher concentration of minority students.”
However, the rosters for the original classes, with lists of JumpStart students and ESL lists, cannot be released, according to Little.
Radick, not a John Diemer parent, sent the email after a friend who has students in the kindergarten class contacted her. Her friend had gone to the school with her concerns, but the school administrators did not know how to address them, Radick said.
Radick believes that this issue is not only prevalent at John Diemer, but is a representation of a larger problem within the Shawnee Mission School District.
“I took action against this because it was wrong.” Radick said. “And I think it needs to be addressed on a larger scale.”
District Director of Research and Assessment Dan Gruman and Shawnee Mission Director of Communications Erin Little declined to comment on the matter.
Two days after Radick’s email was sent, she got in touch with SMSD school board candidate Heather Ousley. Ousley helped her contact Hubbard and Gruman, who then brought the incident to the district’s attention.
The district, concerned with a possible violation of the Title VI Nondiscrimination Act, changed the class rosters, ensuring that the classes would be equal in regards to the distribution of minority students.
Although there was concern within the district– both from administrators and parents– the controversy was not as highly circulating at John Diemer, according to a parent at the school, Lori Ruf. According to Ruf, John Diemer is very diverse. Ruf’s daughter has more Hispanic children in her 5th grade class than white ones, whereas 30% of Shawnee Mission South’s population (the high school that John Diemer feeds into) consists of minority races, according to US News.
“[The PTA president] acted like it was very random and kind of blown out of proportion,” Ruf said. “I think what she came across as saying is that, kind of the general consensus was that since John Diemer is very diverse, this could have happened in any classroom.”
Both Radick and Ruf agree that the situation was handled effectively. Radick’s email was sent on Friday, and the district had changed the class rosters by the following Monday. It was resolved quickly, and had no impact on Ruf’s daughter’s education. Since the rosters were changed before the first day of school, most students did not even know it happened.
“I think it was a well-intentioned error, and the district handled it well. ” Radick said.
Moving forward, school board member Brad Stratton sees this situation as a prime example of the administration resolving difficult issues at a local and school level in a timely and effective manner.
“Although clearly there was not intent for the makeup of these four kindergarten classes to be so skewed, it was resolved quickly,” Stratton said. “And it was ensured that there would be a better distribution of students across the classrooms.”
Information on timeline courtesy of Jemma Radick, Brad Stratton, and the Shawnee Mission Post