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'Special permission' no longer guaranteed

July 28, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

Asking politely won't guarantee that parents are granted "special permission" to take their children to a school outside the district in which they live, but showing a greater need might help parents to appeal a denial.

That's the route Dave Barr is taking.

Barr, 37, has three children, ages 6 through 9, who have attended Fountain Rock Elementary School their entire school career by special permission.

Barr, who is separated from his wife, said his day-care provider raised his children as her own. Although Barr and his children live off Robinwood Drive in Hagerstown, his day-care provider's Fountain Rock-area-based business has helped his children feel comfortable at the school, where they have made friends in children and teachers.

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But his children may not be attending the school this fall. Barr's request for special permission was denied and he is appealing the decision.

Cheryl Strong, the school system's director of student services, said "school enrollment is the issue" when factoring in special permissions. She said the privilege is granted on a yearly basis. Parents are urged to fill out their applications after Feb. 1 and the principal of the school to which they're applying decides whether to grant special permission in July.

Families in special circumstances are given the opportunity to appeal the decision to the Department of Student Services, Strong said.

If the parents are not satisfied with the department's decision, they have five days to appeal it to the superintendent.

"We're sensitive to parents. We know what it's like to have day care to deal with," Strong said.

Strong said having a class size of 21 to 22 students to one teacher is the ideal number, one the school system aims for when assigning children to their fall classrooms.

Carol Mowen, the school system's public information officer, said principals can't make special permission decisions until the summer because students continue to get registered for classes throughout the school year and the number of teachers for a school is determined after budgets are finalized.

"The effort has been to look carefully at special permissions because of tightened resources," she said.

Barr thinks the School Board shouldn't consider cutting out special permissions.

"Not only are they cutting them out of their school, but they're cutting them out of a big part of their life," he said.

The department must factor in that parents apply for special permission throughout the school year and that students attending schools in "improvement," Eastern Elementary School and Hancock Elementary School, have first dibs on seats at higher-performing schools, Mowen said.

Strong said some parents might get notices that one child can go by special permission to a particular school, but not another child because sometimes one grade is more crowded than another.

"They should look into adding another teacher in these schools," Barr said.

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