The Seattle School Board will vote Wednesday whether it will adopt a new STEM program at Washington Middle School, which would eventually phase out a program already in place for advanced students.

Washington’s Highly Capable Cohort (HCC) is a program for students who demonstrate high academic achievement and don't do well in a typical classroom environment. The program exists in a network of schools in Seattle.

According to the Seattle Times, the Seattle Public Schools Superintendent said the HCC program has mostly enrolled white and Asian students, creating a racial divide in education.

If the school board votes to implement the new program, Seattle Public Schools would operate Washington Middle School in the Central District alongside the nonprofit Technology Access Foundation (TAF). The nonprofit uses a STEM-focused learning model as a way to provide educational equality for students of color and low-income families in public schools.

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Currently, HCC tracks students based on academic achievement. 

The proposal to have TAF absorb the Highly Capable Cohort at Washington Middle School was voted down during a November School Board meeting. Parents said they worried the academic standards wouldn't be the same and instead called on the Seattle Public Schools to redo their current gifted programs to make them more equitable.

Some parents hope to keep the current program, fearing the new program will not address advanced learning needs. Some parents have also said a better solution is "universal testing" so all students have the opportunity for placement into HCC.

A coalition called Equity and Access to Support Every Learner believes dissolving HCC at Washington Middle School would negatively impact students of color in Southeast Seattle and cause further racial imbalances across the district.

The school district is hoping the TAF program would improve outcomes for students of color.

A hearing for a bill that would require school districts to develop individual learning plans for every gifted student before phasing out separate classes will be held in Olympia Wednesday.

If the new STEM program is approved, it would take effect in the fall of 2020.

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