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East vs. West drama: Rumors prompt families to bend rules for student enrollment

By Gabe Semenza
June 6, 2010 at 1:06 a.m.


FUTURE BOUNDARY LINES

What happens if the school district's boundary lines changed in the near-future - and your home then is located in a different zone? Would your child remain at the school he already attends or be forced to attend a different school?

"If the learning community lines are adjusted at some point in the future, it will be up to the board of trustees at that time to determine if and for how long students are 'grandfathered' to their prior school," said Diane Boyett, spokeswoman for Victoria schools.

Three Victoria families tried unsuccessfully to enroll teens in a new local high school located outside their residential boundary line.

Ever since Victoria schools announced in May 2007 the construction of new schools, rumors circulated about which side of town will offer the best athletics and academics.

Gossip flowed before one new classroom opened, before one crosstown football game was played.

Already, the rumors - "West is best" and "East is beast" - leaked outside Victoria and fester with people who plan to move here.

Judy VanZant, a local real estate agent, said out-of-towners listen to the rumors.

"One couple is transferring here for work," she said. "The first thing that came out of the wife's mouth was 'I don't want to live anywhere but the West side. I heard 'West is best.'"

Some people say the rumor began because Victoria's west side includes neighborhoods such as Country Club, Woodway and Downtown Victoria. The city's affluent families will send their kids to schools on the west side, the rumor goes, and thus schooling and athletics will be better there.

The east side, though, also has its share of upscale neighborhoods, VanZant noted. Consider Colony Creek and the Estates of Bell Tower, she said.

Bob Moore, superintendent of Victoria schools, said great measures were taken to form a boundary line that creates equity in the school system. The district aimed to create a fair split among ethnic, population and socio-economic lines, he said.

"Back in the days of Stroman and (Victoria) High School, there was a real perception of inequity between the campuses," Moore said. "As far as rumors about inequity in the new schools, that's a just a bunch of talk. You get that anywhere a district has multiple high schools. This is not unique to Victoria."

Whether it's stewing perception and or passionate preferences, the rivalry between the town's two sides prompted so far at least three families to act.

The school district stopped the families from improperly enrolling their child in a school on the other side of their residential boundaries. Moore, who declined to give names, said the families used a relative's address as their own.

"Any case we become aware of, we'll look into it," Moore said.

Families, of course, can move from one side of town to the other without problem - and enroll their child in a school on that side. Students must attend a school located in the zone that encompasses their home.

Families cannot, however, falsify addresses so a student can attend a school outside the zone - or move without penalty solely for the sake of playing sports for a specific school.

"The University Interscholastic League guards against that," said Diane Boyett, spokeswoman for Victoria schools. "It's a misdemeanor crime to falsify a student's address."

Students who falsify an address or move solely to join a certain team can risk losing a year of eligibility, Boyett said.

If after breaking the rules the student plays for the team, the University Interscholastic League can even order the team to forfeit its season.

"We've got to be very vigilant about investigating any student who is moving for the purposes of participation in sports," Moore said. "The district can get in trouble."

To protect against such penalties, the district's office of student services reviews enrollment addresses and suspicious living situations. Most tips about violations come to the school district via concerned parents, Moore said.

If the district determines a family might be in violation of the rules, it contacts parents and then turns the case over to the interscholastic league.

Moore and Boyett urge families to avoid this process altogether. They stressed the boundary line forms an equitable environment on both sides of town.

To maintain balanced ethnic, population and socio-economic demographics, the district will review data every two years. If demographics on one side of town become skewed, the boundary line will be redrawn, Boyett said.

"The steps being taken to ensure equity are very bold steps," she said. "The two schools are even being built at the same time with the same floor plan - and they even face the same direction. Every reasonable step was taken that every child in the Victoria Independent School District has the same opportunities for a quality education. We don't ever want to develop a school system where one high school is deemed the good one, which implies the other is the bad one."

Miguel Torres is an involved parent who started a group that works to provide support to local high school athletes. He listens to the rumors.

"For anyone to think 'West is the Best' and 'East is the Beast' ... you won't know until after a few years," he said. "How can anyone know what schools and teams will be better before the schools even open?"

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