Search the Archive:

Back to the Weekly Home Page


Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, January 30, 2002

Guest Opinion: 'Tinsley Case' after 25 years still evident in schools Guest Opinion: 'Tinsley Case' after 25 years still evident in schools (January 30, 2002)

by Gerald Z. Marer

Look at the faces in any school in Palo Alto -- you will see Native American, Black, Filipino, Hispanic, Pacific Island, Vietnamese and other minorities, along with Asians.

Twenty-five years ago those faces were almost all white.

This dramatic change has resulted in large part from a lawsuit filed in 1976 by 34 parents of elementary students in the Ravenswood City School District (East Palo Alto and East Menlo Park), Palo Alto Unified (PAUSD) and nearby elementary school districts.

Known as the "Tinsley Case," for Margaret Tinsley, the first-named parent on the legal papers, and supported by volunteer help from members of the Mid-Peninsula Task Force for Integrated Education, the suit sought to reduce racial and social isolation and educational disparity of students in those districts.

Ravenswood students were almost exclusively minority and at the bottom on state achievement tests, while the students of PAUSD and the other elementary school districts were almost exclusively Caucasian and at the top on state achievement tests.

After eight years of litigation, California high courts ruled these disparate inter- district conditions violated the State Constitution, and inter-district education or the merger of districts could be ordered as remedies. Two years later, a tentative settlement was reached, and after public meetings, it was supported by each community and school board and was incorporated into a court order in 1986.

The order provides for a Voluntary Transfer Plan ("VTP"), which now each year allows 166 minority students in kindergarten, first and second grades in Ravenswood to voluntarily transfer to other districts: Menlo Park, 24; Los Lomitas, 12; Woodside, 5; Portola Valley, 8; San Carlos, 26, Belmont, 31 and PAUSD, 60.

Transportation for VTP students to PAUSD is provided by PAUSD and paid by the state. The first students transferred in September 1987.

Today, of PAUSD's 9,952 students, only 559 or 5.6 percent are VTP students, from grades K-12. Of the 9,952 students, 20.2 percent are Asian and 12.7 percent are other minorities, of which 45 percent are VTP students.

By comparison, in 1989, the second VTP year, of PAUSD's 7,413 students, 135 or 1.8 percent were VTP students. Of all students, only 12.2 percent were Asians and 11 percent were other minorities, of which 13.5 percent were VTP students.

VTP students are treated the same as all students for school and class assignment and services, according to Assistant Superintendent Irv Rollins and Carmen Giedt, Coordinator of the VTP. They report that parents of VTP students choose to transfer their children because of a strong commitment to education -- although some in recent years have been forced by economic conditions to move elsewhere, requiring removing their children from the program.

The VTP students are part of every district's ability to adjust to mandated reduction in class size, increasing enrollment, available classrooms and need for special-education services.

Although VTP students and other non-Asian minorities on average score significantly lower on achievement tests than other students in PAUSD, the district still scores in the top percentiles on these tests.

A "strategic goal" adopted by PAUSD is to reduce this achievement gap. Approximately 50 percent of VTP students in PAUSD, however, achieve at or above grade level, and they score far higher on state tests than similar minority students in the state, San Mateo County and Ravenswood school district, whose students continue to be exclusively minority (67 percent Hispanic, 23 percent Black, 10 percent others and a few Caucasian), segregated from students in neighboring districts. The State pays annual basic aid to PAUSD and each district for each VTP student. This support is far less than what PAUSD and other districts spend from local property taxes and state funds for each of their students.

However, PAUSD and the other districts are reimbursed by the state for administrative costs and staff of the VTP.

The presence of VTP students enriches the school environment, aids the "social development" of all students and fosters "respect for people of all racial backgrounds" -- also "strategic goals" of PAUSD.

What has the VTP meant to its students and parents? One current VTP parent, Lupe Martinez, attended K-8 grades in Ravenswood. She says that as a child she knew and felt her school experience was "not equal" to that in PAUSD.

When she and her husband had children, they became VTP students in PAUSD. Although the Martinez family can move to somewhere other than Palo Alto, they have chosen to remain in East Palo Alto so their children may continue to attend and graduate from PAUSD.

According to Stephanie Wick, Director of the Foundation for College Education (FCE), many VTP students claim their lives have been "saved" by the VTP. FCE works with PAUSD staff to assist VTP students in grades 9-12 to apply to and gain acceptance at quality colleges.

Twenty-eight FCE-assisted VTP students in PAUSD are in college and 58 are currently being assisted.

The success of the VTP students in PAUSD and in college results from the solid commitment of PAUSD, dedicated effort of teachers and staff, the work of VTP students and their parents and the sincere acceptance by other students and their parents in PAUSD. Gerald Z. Marer, a Palo Alto attorney, represented the parents in the Tinsley case, along with attorneys Jack Robertson and Sidney Berlin. January 13, 2001


Copyright © 2002 Embarcadero Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Reproduction or online links to anything other than the home page
without permission is strictly prohibited.