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Policy that allows some students to choose schools causes some

January 28, 2002

Policy that allows some students to choose schools causes some



By TARA REILLY
tarar@herald-mail.com


Some Washington County public school parents opposed to the possibility of sending their children to new schools through redistricting have the opportunity to keep them in their home schools under a current board policy, School Board member Doris Nipps said.

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That exception is causing at least one School Board member to question the effectiveness of the redistricting process if many of the affected students decide not to change schools.

"It's something I'm going to look at," School Board member Roxanne Ober said. "It certainly is a question of mine. I question how effective redistricting will be if we don't look at special permission."

Nipps said parents may apply for special permission to keep their children in their home districts if the board approves the redrawing of boundary lines for several of the county's elementary, middle and high schools.

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She said the redistricting process will work with the provision, but it will take longer to shift all of the students that the board would like.

"It will eventually get there," Nipps said. "It's just going to take us a couple of years, that's all."

The school board is hoping to shift 541 students to different schools over the next several years, with some being moved next school year.

The special permission policy currently applies to incoming students in fourth, seventh, 10th and 11th grades, Nipps said. Parents would have to apply for special permission every year. The School Board will decide Tuesday night whether to allow incoming ninth-graders affected by redistricting the same special permission, she said.

Nipps said she thinks the board will give the ninth-graders the same opportunity.

"I think it was understood that that's what we wanted to happen," she said. "When we take it to a vote Tuesday night, it's cemented then."

The special permission policy currently allows 1,270 county students to choose which schools they'd like to attend, according to School Board statistics. Of those students, more than 930 are in elementary school, about 150 are in middle school and about 180 are in high school, according to statistics.

Ober has said she supports the School Board re-evaluating the special permission policy, which was a recommendation of the Blue Ribbon Redistricting Committee. The committee was created by the School Board to decrease overcrowding at some schools and increase enrollment at others.

The board's policy committee will begin considering changes to the special permission policy Wednesday. School Board President Edward Forrest said he expects changes to be made, but they would not go into effect next school year.

School officials have said the special permission policy has its advantages. For example, parents may need to change schools out of convenience if their day-care providers or baby-sitters are located in other districts.

Nipps said parents may want to change schools if their home school doesn't provide certain programs or courses for their children.

Also, allowing the provision for students affected by redistricting may help ease the possible shifts for families, she said.

Forrest also said he supports the provision.

"It gives the kids the opportunity to finish out where they already started," he said.

Nipps said it's possible some students affected by redistricting might decide not to apply for special permission.

She also said other counties do not allow the same provision.

"I think we're doing a good thing in allowing that to happen," Nipps said. "We're trying to do the best we can, and everybody's not going to be happy. And we know that."

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