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Seattle parents call in attorneys over school district's highly capable program changes

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Seattle Public Schools is in the middle of a big shift in how it serves "highly capable" students, or those considered to perform at significantly advanced academic levels.

By the 2027-28 school year, the district will completely phase out its highly capable cohort model, under which students go to a handful of schools that offer advanced curricula.

Instead, the district will move to a neighborhood school model, keeping students in classrooms close to home. The district says teachers will personalize lesson plans to suit every kid’s needs and abilities.

The district has cited equity issues with the highly capable cohort model. Those schools serve a much smaller percentage of Black and Hispanic students than is represented in the district overall.

Last month, the parent-teacher associations at Cascadia and Decatur elementary schools, both highly capable cohort schools, retained a lawyer and sent a letter to the district outlining concerns about the changes to the program.

They allege that Seattle Public Schools doesn’t have the resources to adequately implement the neighborhood school model, so closing highly capable cohort schools would be a violation of a state law requiring instruction for highly capable students.

"We haven't seen any evidence of additional staffing, funding, or strategic planning on how we're going to accelerate curriculum," said Lara Hruska, an attorney representing the parents. Hruska also has a child in the district's highly capable cohort.

Seattle joins a nationwide conversation over how gifted education should work. Some school districts around the country have been phasing out honors and gifted programs over equity concerns. Some have reversed those decisions after community outcry.

Listen to Soundside’s full conversation with Decatur PTA member Katie McAllister and Cedar Law's Lara Hruska by clicking the play icon at the top of this story.

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