The JCPS student assignment committee meets. | Photo by Olivia Krauth

Louisville parents overwhelmingly want more choice out of the Jefferson County Public Schools student assignment plan, according to a survey regarding the complex plan.

All students should have access to a high-quality school, respondents said, and parents should have more say over where their students go. They also want shorter bus rides — 30 minutes or less for elementary school students, 45 minutes for older kids.

“People in this community like choice,” Shawn Herbig, from the survey handler IQS Research, told assignment committee members Tuesday night.

Of less importance was racial diversity, long a focus of the district’s assignment plan to overcome segregation and provide diverse learning environments. And parents disagreed on its importance, and how the district is faring, along racial lines.

A committee tasked with revising the district’s complicated assignment plan by the 2020-21 school year reviewed the preliminary survey results Tuesday night. Approximately 4,765 community members, students and parents filled out the survey. 

All three groups had different priorities, Herbig said. And those priorities typically changed along racial lines.

Generally, people were “apathetic” toward the effectiveness of the plan, with 42 percent of them giving an average score. One-third said the plan works most of the time. Only 4 percent said it never works.

White parents were most satisfied with the plan, according to the preliminary results. Black parents were the least satisfied.

Half the parents said diversity should be a guiding principle for a future plan — meaning half did not. Less than that — 45 percent — said creating a racially diverse learning environment helped academic achievement.

White parents generally said the plan is working well to create diversity in schools but said it isn’t important to create a diverse learning environment to begin with. Black parents said the plan is not creating enough diversity in schools, but that it is important to have a racially diverse student body.

Over two-thirds of African-American parents said diversity should be a focus in assignment guidelines. That drops to 40 percent of white parents.

One-fifth of parents said they would be willing to send their students to a different school to boost diversity there. In the current plan, students in the West End appear most likely to be bused to a school elsewhere in the district.

JCPS uses racial and socioeconomic factors to assign students to schools to create diverse students bodies throughout the district and to overcome segregation in the county. But the plan is criticized most frequently for this focus, including for causing long bus rides for students in the West End to get to their assigned school elsewhere.

Around one-third of parents want to be able to send kids to the closest school — their neighborhood school. Only 18 percent of students wanted the same.

The survey also found multiple “misconceptions” around the plan. One-third of respondents said assignment was based solely on racial quotas, something outlawed in a Supreme Court case against JCPS over 10 years ago.

The findings align with feedback parents gave in community forums held in late 2018. Quality and equity should be the focus in a new plan, parents at two forums said.

Tuesday’s results were preliminary, with no action taken or plan designed. The school choice director Cassie Blausey told the committee to expect more meetings to further discuss the findings in the coming weeks.