Private schoolers shut out of Marsh sixth grade

A special program for sixth-graders at Marsh Junior High School has proven so popular that even private school students want in on it. And their parents are upset that they’re being shut out.

Ken Detweiler, whose family lives “right down the street” from Marsh, tried to get his son in the “lottery” for a spot in the program that houses 60 sixth-graders at Chico’s newest school. But he was told that his boy would be at the bottom of the list, because he attends Notre Dame Elementary, a private Catholic school.

“It is wrong. It is discriminatory,” said Detweiler, who has talked with other parents with the same complaint. “We are not being represented.”

David Reise, assistant superintendent for the Chico Unified School District, says parents are missing the point of the program: “to relieve overcrowding in our intermediate grades.”

Students at crammed Little Chico Creek got first dibs at the program, snagging 41 seats. Then came Parkview and finally students who are Marsh “feeder school” students. A few students who live near Bidwell and Chico junior highs applied, but only Bidwell will offer two such classes.

Reise acknowledged that between 10 and 15 private-school students, including some from Chico Christian School and the charter Chico Country Day School, vied for slots in the program, but the bottom line is “they’re not CUSD kids.” To let them in, he said, would be “taking spots that would defeat what we’re trying to do.”

“We have kids who live in the attendance area who didn’t get in,” Reise said. “The odds were against [the private schoolers] regardless.”

But Detweiler says his son—who transferred out of Parkview Elementary to return to Notre Dame—would have easily gotten into Marsh had he not opted out of his neighborhood school. Detweiler said he and his wife, Teresa, like Marsh not just because it’s convenient, but also because “it’s a new school. It has new infrastructure. It has all the bells and whistles that go along with a new school, and the principal, Jeff Sloan, runs a tight ship. He gets a lot out of his students.”

"They have arbitrarily discriminated against private education in the district," said Detweiler, who’s even consulted an attorney about the situation. "We pay property tax that supports these schools."