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Mini Tutorial: History of the Tinsley Voluntary Transfer Program

Today, three elementary school districts serve students in Menlo Park: Ravenswood City School District, Menlo Park City School District, and our own Las Lomitas Elementary School District. Until the 1950's, all three districts served primarily white students. After WWII, these demographics began to shift. Today, the racial and ethnic makeup of Ravenswood City School District is dramatically different than that of Menlo Park and Las Lomitas.

Racial Composition Map Overlaid with School District Lines

Esri Demographics dot map (2020 Census data); I overlaid school district boundary maps

How did this happen? The segregation of Menlo Park’s school districts was not an accident; it was the intended consequence of decades of racially driven housing policies and practices. As part of local advocacy group Menlo Together, I saw this history with my own eyes while digging through the dusty library stacks to find records of redlining and housing segregation in Menlo Park. (Did you know that I am a U.S. History doctoral program dropout?) To learn more about the local history of housing segregation, check out Menlo Together's Color of Law: Menlo Park Edition.

In 1976, Margaret Tinsley and a group of African American and white parents in Palo Alto filed a lawsuit asserting that the isolation of minorities in the Ravenswood City School District led to unequal educational opportunities. Their goal was a court-ordered merger of Ravenswood with surrounding school districts.

As the lawsuit worked its way through the legal system over the next decade, Menlo Park's school districts became even more segregated. In 1983, roughly 2,000 residences in the Willows and Flood neighborhoods transferred from Ravenswood (2% white at the time) to Menlo Park (90% white at the time), following the successful transfer of Menlo Oaks and Suburban Park to Menlo Park in 1975 and 1976. In their (unsuccessful) appeal of the 1983 decision, the Ravenswood City School District argued that the transfer would “isolate minority students in the Ravenswood District while surrounding them with overwhelmingly White districts…”

1955 Map of Ravenswood City School District (Shading added to show transfer of areas west of 101)

Ravenswood Post (August 25, 1955) found by longtime Belle Haven resident Pamela Jones *Note: The vast majority of residences in areas 1 and 6 transferred to MPCSD, but (as seen in the first map) the district lines do not run exactly along highway 101 as shaded above.

Ten years after the lawsuit, in 1986, the Superior Court of California issued a settlement creating the Tinsley Voluntary Transfer Program, which allows minority* students from the Ravenswood City School District to transfer into other local school districts: Las Lomitas, Menlo Park, Palo Alto, Portola Valley, San Carlos, and Woodside (Redwood City was originally part of this order but no longer participates because of a demographic shift that resulted in a higher minority ratio). Because the purpose of the settlement was to increase integration, it also allowed non-minority students from these districts to transfer into the Ravenswood City School District. However, since the program began, only two students have transferred into the Ravenswood City School District.** Each year, 166 kindergarten- to 2nd-grade students from the Ravenswood City School District participate in the transfer program, which is managed by the San Mateo County Office of Education. Las Lomitas receives 12 new students through the Tinsley program annually.

As recently as 2018, Menlo Park neighborhoods have requested transfers into the Menlo Park City School District from Ravenswood. Here is a 2010 memo from the California State Board of Education reviewing that year's process and decision to deny the transfer of an additional 25 residences in the Pacific Park development of the Willows.

Photo: Menlo Park Historical Association

Segregation also adversely affects behavioral and health outcomes for Ravenswood-area youth. For example, the impacts of COVID-19 were more focused for the Ravenswood City School District community as a whole than for the Las Lomitas School District community. What can you do to help create a more equitable Menlo Park? In the short term, those who are able can financially support local organizations like the Ravenswood Education Foundation. Policy-wise, pay attention to your local Housing Element (link to Menlo Park's HE), which can help tip the scale to more diverse, equitable neighborhoods. This is not a quick fix; it's going to take structural change and daily cognitive change to repair our city. Let's open our ears and roll up our sleeves together.


People will often use the shorthand, "Tinsley students" when referring to children who participate in the Tinsley Voluntary Transfer Program. Rather than defining students first by a particular status or trait (e.g. "Tinsley" student or "disabled student"), I prefer to use person-first language (e.g. "students who participate in the Tinsley Program" or "student with a disability") when a descriptor is necessary for context.

*The State Superintendent of Public Instruction defines “minority” students as students of African-American, Asian, Pacific Islander, Filipino, Hispanic/Latino, American-Indian, and Alaskan Native heritage.

**This, and a lot of other details I cite, is from Bayinaah R. Jones' 2006 doctoral dissertation for the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, "The Tinsley Case Decision."


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