Evanston news delivered free to your inbox! 


Since adopting a desegregation plan in 1966,  School District 65 has used three guidelines in determining how to racially balance its schools:  “reasonable integration” in the 1960s; a State-mandated 15 percent plus-or-minus rule in the 1970s; and the 60 percent guideline since 1985.

The District’s Strategic Planning Advisory Committee recently recommended that the District review whether to retain the 60 percent guideline.

1960s – “Reasonable Integration”

Under the 1966 desegregation plan, Foster School, which was 99% black, was converted into a magnet school that offered innovative educational programs designed to attract white students to the school and desegregate it.  All of the children who attended Foster School and 59 percent of the children who attended Dewey School, which was 66% black, were assigned to other schools in the District.  About 450 black children who had previously attended Foster and Dewey schools were bused to schools on the District’s periphery.

“Some of us felt that by integrating the schools we could make all of the schools equitable in terms of educational opportunity and improve the quality of education.”  — former School Board member Alice Kreiman

In terms of racially balancing the schools, then-Superintendent Gregory Coffin said in a 1966 memo that a Citizens’ Advisory Committee used the following principle: “Racial balance – efforts will be made to achieve reasonable integration in all schools.” Efforts to achieve racial balance were counterbalanced by other considerations, which included maintaining the neighborhood school concept for the maximum number of students and minimizing pupil displacement.

The desegregation plan did not achieve perfect racial balance.  At that time, black students comprised 22% of the students in the District. Boundary changes were made so the projected black enrollment at each school would range from 17 to 25 % of the school’s population.

One reason to desegregate the schools was the view that it would enhance educational opportunities for black children. A report prepared by the Educational Testing Service said black third- and eighth-graders scored on average at the 27th and 39th percentile ranks nationally in reading and math in 1967.

1970s – “15% Plus-or-Minus”

In the mid-1970s, a declining student enrollment and projected financial deficits led to discussions about school closings and the first major redistricting of attendance areas since the desegregation plan was implemented in 1967. In a 1975 memo to the School Board, then- Superintendent Joseph E. Hill also noted that there was “growing racial imbalance in some of our schools’ minority populations, ranging from 14% to 55%.”  At that time, black students comprised about 30% of the District’s students.

School District 65 applied a racial balancing rule adopted by the State Board of Education when it redrew attendance areas after school closings in 1976 (College Hill, Miller and Noyes schools) and in 1979 (Timber Ridge, Central, Kingsley and Foster schools).  One criterion adopted by the District 65 Board provided “that the racial ratio prescribed for schools by the State Superintendent of Instruction is to be met.”

The State Board’s rule provided that racial segregation would exist if “the minority racial composition of the pupils in any attendance center fails to reflect, within 15 percentage points, the minority racial composition of the pupils in all attendance centers under a given school authority.” The State Board adopted this rule to enforce the Armstrong Act, an Act which amended the Illinois School Code and which requires school boards to change or revise attendance areas from time to time “in a manner which will take into consideration the prevention of segregation and the elimination of separation of children in public schools because of color, race or nationality.” 

Thus, racial segregation was defined under State law in terms of a 15 % plus-or-minus formula.  If a school district was composed of 40% minority students, then the minority enrollment at each school in the district was required to be between 25% and 55% to comply with the State Board’s rule.

After District 65 redrew attendance areas in 1979, the percentage of black students ranged from a low of 30% at Willard school to a high of 55% at Washington school.  At that time, black students comprised 40% of the District’s enrollment.

Alice Kreiman, who served on the District 65 Board for six years and was president of the Board in 1979, told the RoundTable that the State Board’s 15 percent-plus-or-minus rule was not questioned during redistricting “because it was State mandated and consistent with the Board’s intent to integrate the schools.”

Historically, Foster School was treated as the stepchild of the District and had fewer resources than other District 65 schools she said.  “Some of us felt that by integrating the schools we could make all of the schools equitable in terms of educational opportunity and improve the quality of education.  We felt that integration could achieve that end and that this was the energy of the times as well.

“Racially balancing the schools also gave white and black children an opportunity to be exposed to each other’s cultures and lives,” she added.  “It makes for a broader base of appreciation for differences and values.”

Ms. Kreiman also alluded to the segregated housing patterns in the City and to the contentious School Board election in 1970, which many felt was a referendum on whether to retain Superintendent Coffin, who was spearheading efforts to integrate the schools, the teaching staff and the curriculum in a vigorous manner.  The pro-Coffin slate lost in a close election in which 26,000 votes were cast, compared to the usual 3,000 votes.  Ms. Kreiman said, “The feeling of many of us was that racially balancing the schools was a mechanism for open housing and a larger attitudinal change for the community.”

Rev. John Norwood, a Board member at the time, told the RoundTable that he originally fought for the integration of District 65’s schools in the 1960s, but that his position shifted by the late 1970s.  He said, “Due to the housing patterns in Evanston, it was impossible to racially balance the schools’ populations without moving students out of their neighborhoods. . . .  All of the shifting to meet a quota did more damage than help.  Academically, it was not worth it.  After schools let out, there was no interaction planned to improve the relationship.”  He added that his position then and now is that “the seating of a body in a location does not do anything for the head.”

1980s – The 60% Guideline

The District did not face redistricting again until early 1985.  At that time, the District projected that Dewey, Walker and Washington schools would be short classroom space for the 1985 – 1986 school year and that Orrington would be short classroom space in the following year.  The District also recognized that a number of schools were not racially balanced:  King Lab, Lincolnwood, Orrington, Willard, Haven and Nichols were 60% to 66% white; Dawes and Oakton were 63% and 67% black.  The racial composition of District 65 at the time was 52% white, 45% black and 4% other ethnic groups.

Thus, Superintendent Robert P. Campbell proposed alternatives to address the space needs and said in a memo to the Board, “The administration has also used this opportunity to make adjustments in the racial quotas of some schools.”

“All of the shifting to meet a quota did more damage than help.  Academically, it was not worth it.  After schools let out, there was no interaction planned to improve the relationship.” — former School Board member Rev. John Norwood  

When the District considered redistricting in 1985, the State Board’s 15% plus-or-minus racial balancing rule was no longer in effect. The Illinois Supreme Court struck down the rule in 1982, holding that the State Board lacked authority to promulgate mandatory rules under the Armstrong Act.  The Court concluded that “the legislature has charged the local districts with the responsibility of enforcing the Armstrong Act.  Consequently, promulgating rules relative thereto should be the duty of the local school boards.”

After its mandatory rule was struck down, the State Board adopted a voluntary guideline which suggested that school districts establish criteria to define desegregated schools.  The State Board suggested, “One approach which has been used effectively in both voluntary and court-ordered plans is to establish a limit, such as 10% or 15%, for the extent to which minority enrollment at individual schools may differ from the minority enrollment of the district as a whole.”

Before considering alternatives to resolving space needs and racial balance in 1985, the District 65 School Board decided on a list of criteria which could be used to evaluate the alternatives.  On February 25, 1985, the Board adopted a criterion that provided  “racial ratios should be considered while arriving at solutions to space problems,” rejecting a more flexible proposal that “racial ratios should be kept in mind but should not be the determining factor in arriving at a solution to a space problem.”  The Board also agreed that one criterion would be “the variance in racial balance between the schools should be minimized.”

According to the Board’s minutes discussion centered around what was meant by “minimized.” Sources report that one Board member favored using the 15 percent plus-or-minus guideline.  Another questioned whether the Board should establish a percentage but expressed concern that some schools were approaching the point where they would be “racially identifiable.”

At the March 18, 1985, meeting, Board member Chuck Staley presented the criterion “no defined racial group shall exceed 60% of a school population.”  The minutes reflect that the criterion was accepted by consensus after extensive discussion.

In a guest essay on page 9, Mr. Staley says “there was nothing particularly magic about 60/40; it was chosen because considering the District’s population, it was achievable without increasing busing or re-drawing the District’s school boundary lines.”

“There was nothing particularly magic about 60/40; it was chosen, because, considering the District’s population, it was achievable without increasing busing or redrawing the District’s school boundary lines.” — Former School Board member Charles Staley

Mr. Staley states that an underlying premise was the belief that “an integrated school system was central to the well being of all our students.”  He explains, “We had made a determination that all students, and particularly the minority students who had historically been deprived of the resources necessary for achieving a quality education, would prosper to a higher level in an integrated system.  Each group would bring its positive and negative aspects to the centers of learning and through a sharing and cooperative effort, all groups would benefit.”

Walter Kihm, a Board member at the time, told the RoundTable that there were a number of schools close to the 60% threshold at that time and he felt that a 60% racial guideline would not be that much of a leap.  He did not think the State Board’s guideline was a significant factor in the decision, because District 65 had its own commitment to integrating the schools.

Since 1985, the District has attempted to relieve overcrowding and to racially balance the schools through a variety of measures:  redrawing attendance areas of Dawes and Walker schools in 1985 to shift additional black students to Walker School; establishing the math/science corridor in 1987 in an attempt to attract white students to attend schools in southern Evanston; redrawing the attendance areas of Lincoln and Oakton schools in 1990 to shift white students to Oakton and black students to Lincoln; redrawing attendance areas when Kingsley School was reopened in 1991.

Some of these changes, as well as other changes proposed from time to time, spawned controversy.  In 1990 the Board appointed a racially mixed Long Range Planning Committee composed of 30 community members to propose a long range plan to racially balance the District’s schools. The LRPC considered numerous models used in school districts throughout the country, including pairing schools, clustering schools, school choice and additional magnets.

In its May 1992 report, the LRPC recommended that the District adopt a comprehensive plan to improve minority achievement and proposed a model to racially balance the schools, a primary element of which was redistricting, backed up with a choice concept.

In its report, the LRPC supported the 60% guideline, stating, “The goal of this school system is to have student achievement and the perception of excellence consistently and uniformly high.  To this end, students must learn social and academic skills.  As the diverse nature of the Evanston/Skokie community is an integral part of the learning environment, the committee views it as essential that the community’s children learn in a desegregated atmosphere.  Therefore, the proper model for desegregation is that no racially identifiable group shall exceed 60% of the student population of any school.”

The Board did not adopt the LRPC’s desegregation model, but after a number of controversial proposals were considered, adopted and vacated, the Board decided to establish Timber Ridge as a second magnet school and implement a recruitment campaign to attract black students from Oakton School to the magnet schools.  Because the District monitors race in admitting students to the magnet schools and in granting permissive transfers between schools, a second magnet school increased the District’s ability to racially balance the schools. 

Over the years, the District has also located bilingual and special education programs at certain schools to relieve overcrowding and to draw students of a particular race to those schools and achieve racial balance.

Many children have been bused to school in District 65 since the 1960s. While busing was originated to relieve overcrowding at Foster and Dewey schools and then to implement a desegregation plan, busing is provided today for an interrelated set of reasons, including safety, distance, racially balancing the schools and providing access to certain programs such as special services and bilingual education.

In the 2001-02 school year, 1,024 black students, 790 white students and 367 other students were bused. Excluding students bused to magnet schools and schools with special programs, 635 black students, 416 white students and 65 other students were bused to school.

According to District figures, about 400 black children in the Fifth Ward – the area surrounding the old Foster School – attended Willard, Lincolnwood, Kingsley or Orrington schools last year, schools located in predominantly white neighborhoods. Of these children, 200 were bused to school.

60% Guideline Questioned

In late 2000, the District appointed a Strategic Planning Advisory Committee to assist in developing a long-term strategic plan for the District. After holding four forums to gather community input, the Committee identified eight challenges, one of which concerned the 60 percent guideline. The Committee’s report said, “The 60 percent guideline currently dominates the organization of the schools and programs in District 65. The Board needs to determine if this guideline improves the educational results for all children in the District and whether or not it should continue. The busing of African-American and Hispanic students for integration purposes and the lack of a school in the Fifth Ward deny many students the benefits of a neighborhood school.”

When the Committee presented its recommendations to the Board, co-chair Terri Shepard, said, “The Community wants to know if the original purpose of the guideline has been met.” Co-chair Tracey Wallace said, “The disproportionate burden that busing places on African American and Hispanic children to meet the guideline may adversely affect their education.”

While many minority students have excelled in District 65, on the 2002 ISATs, 51% of the District’s black students and 46% of the District’s Hispanic students failed to meet State standards. On the 2000 Stanford Achievement Test, black students in fourth and eighth grade scored on average at the 41st and 44th percentile ranks nationally in reading and math.

Committee member Judith Treadway said, “There was a premise that if we integrated the schools, that if we brought black students into white schools, this would be better opportunity for them to be educated. The issue for us to discuss, based on all of the valid research that this District has generated, is whether or not the 60 percent guideline has improved academic achievement of African American students.”

 At present, all of the District’s schools are within the 60% guideline.

The RoundTable sought comments from several other prior Board members, who were unavailable.

June 18, 2003

Guest Essay By Charles Staley, Former District 65 Board Member

In the mid-80s the District 65 School Board, of which I was a member, was struggling with many of the same issues which face the current Board.  At that time we were nearly 20 years into Evanston’s voluntary school integration plan. We were witnessing improvements in the test scores of minority students, but the improvement was not proceeding rapidly enough to satisfy us.

Although I was not actively involved in the school system when the voluntary integration plan was introduced, from my years on the Board and time spent studying the problems and achievements of  District 65, I believe that the motivation was noble and worthy of praise. The District was moving from a period of separate and unequal to a new era of equal education for all.

While trying to achieve an excellent equal education for all of our students, we had to address the basic issues of the District. One of these issues was how to maintain an integrated school system that all students and their parents would support. We had made a determination that all students, and particularly the minority students who had historically been deprived of the resources necessary for achieving a quality education, would prosper to a higher level in an integrated system.  Each group would bring its positive and negative aspects to the centers of learning and through a sharing and cooperative effort, all groups would benefit.  While this was a bit utopian, there were positive results of which we can all be proud.

Since we believed that an integrated school system was central to the well being of all of our students, it was necessary to take steps to integrate the system and keep it integrated.  School boundaries were drawn and re-drawn.  Busing routes were established and changed.  The situation was made more difficult by a declining enrollment which necessitated numerous school closings. 

It was proving to be difficult to maintain an integrated school population at Oakton and Dawes Schools.  In 1985, the population at Oakton was approximately 67 percent minority, which at that time was primarily African American, and 33 percent white.  Dawes was approximately 63 percent minority and 37 percent white. Each year the percentage of minority students had been increasing and the percentage of white students had been decreasing. 

This was due in part to a change in demographics in Southwest Evanston and in part to an increasing trend of parents of white children electing to send their children to parochial and other private schools. The Board had addressed this issue for several years but had not been able to reach a consensus on the approach which would be the best for the District and its students. 

With that background, at a Board meeting in 1985, after a lengthy discussion about how to address the possibility that Oakton School might rapidly achieve a nearly segregated status in our integrated District, I made a motion that the District adopt a guideline that no defined racial or ethnic group would be permitted to exceed 60 percent of a school’s population without the Board interceding to take steps to return the population  as nearly as reasonably possible to the 60/40 status. 

My recollection is that there was nothing particularly magic about 60/40; it was chosen because considering the District’s population, it was achievable without increasing busing or re-drawing the District’s school boundary lines.  The motion passed after considerable additional discussion.  I do not recall whether the vote was unanimous, but I do not recall any strenuous objections.

Twenty years later, I still believe that one of the main reasons for living in Evanston is to bring up your children and yourself in a diverse, real environment.  This cannot be achieved in a school system that is not integrated throughout all of its schools.  While in the short run it may seem expedient to back away from the goal of achieving a quality, integrated education for all in order to satisfy the legitimate concerns of various sectors of our community, in the long run the only true hope for all of us is to learn to prosper together to achieve our goals. 

This can only be accomplished in a school system that is integrated throughout all of its schools.


District 65: Review of the 60% Guideline

In 2002, the District 65 School Board adopted a five year strategic plan, one goal of which is to evaluate the 60 percent guideline used to racially balance the schools.  The guideline provides that no defined racial group shall exceed 60 percent of a school population.

District 65 administrators are in the process of gathering information to assist the Board in making its evaluation.  After reviewing the information and sharing it with the community, the Board plans to solicit community input in a series of forums this fall. This article summarizes the guidelines District 65 has used to racially balance the schools since 1966.  The RoundTable published A History of Foster School and Desegregation in District 65 in its June 19, 2002 issue.

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...