The Lewiston School Department is responsible for providing an equally excellent education for all students. It can best do that by approving a redistricting plan to balance the number of English Language Learners among its elementary schools.
That plan is scheduled to be discussed and voted upon Monday evening by the Lewiston School Committee. That meeting is the culmination of a series of public hearings at all of the city's elementary schools.
While 23 percent of the students in Lewiston's elementary schools are classified as English Language Learners, those students are most heavily concentrated at Longley School (61 percent of 350 students at that school) and Montello School (37 percent of 714).
Students are classified as ELL if English is not the primary language spoken in their home.
Lewiston's student population is growing and 10 new classrooms will be available at McMahon school next fall to accommodate that growth. That alone would require moving some of the district's boundaries in order to fill those classrooms.
But the School Committee is left with a very difficult and emotional choice: Should it align students with schools by their traditional neighborhoods or in a way that reflects the diversity of the entire community?
The weight of the evidence shows that students clustered by language, income and race fare more poorly than students from wealthier neighborhood.
It further shows that their academic performance, social and language skills improve when they are in schools that best reflect the diversity of their community.
Some studies show, according to Superintendent Bill Webster, that both minority and white students do best in an environment that is roughly 20 percent minority.
This sort of desegregation improves the test scores of African-American students while not negatively impacting the scores of white students.
Friendships are more likely to form when students attend school together, while prejudice and tension is reduced by the time students enter middle school.
Perhaps most telling, adults who attended integrated schools as children later look upon that as a good experience that better prepared them for life beyond high school.
Without the redistricting plan, Longley and Montello will become increasingly non-English speaking and segregated compared to the other elementary schools in the district.
Gradually, over a period of years, Webster's plan would address the problem by redistricting about 7 percent of the district's students.
Under the plan, Montello would go from 37 percent ELL to 24; McMahon from 15 percent to 24 and Geiger from 14 percent to 19.
Meanwhile, Farwell, Longley and Martel would await state construction funding.
When granted, Martel would be closed and students from Farwell, Longley and Martel would move into a new grade 3-6 school. Longley and Farwell would be turned into pre-K-2 schools.
The shift is less dramatic when viewed from the classroom level. A typical Geiger classroom today has three ELL students. Under the new plan, it would have four.
A typical Montello class today has eight ELL students and would have five after redistricting.
The ultimate goal would be to have every school draw from the downtown in order to have roughly the same number of ELL students in each classroom.
This is an emotional issue. Parents have purchased houses in certain neighborhoods expecting their children would attend a specific school.
Parents also fear that having a slightly larger number of ELL students in a classroom will disrupt the education of their children.
But the School Committee is accountable for providing the same high-quality of education for all children.
It can best do so by approving this plan.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.