Tighter rein on school transfers ahead?
By Kathy Chaffin
If the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education approves the proposed high school redistricting plan, parents of affected students may find it more difficult to get their children transferred than in the past.
“We try to strictly adhere to our board policy which spells out reasons why someone may legitimately be allowed to transfer,” said Dr. Walter Hart, assistant superintendent for administration.
Concerns about an increase in transfer requests under the redistricting plan have been raised by school board members and parents at recent meetings and public hearings. Several parents whose children would be moved to the North district have said they would sell their houses and move or put their children in private schools if the plan is implemented.
Dr. Jim Emerson, chairman of the school board, said the system’s transfer policy is “absolutely” being enforced. The problem school officials run into, he said, is when parents establish a residence with a relative in the attendance zone for the school they want their children to attend.
“Our hands are pretty much tied on that,” he said, “but every one that has been brought to our attention, we have researched and enforced.”
Emerson said students going to schools outside of their attendance area “is a problem now, but I can promise you that it will be twofold or tenfold if we proceed with this redistricting plan. I don’t know of anything to stop it other than you can appeal to people’s integrity and honesty, but that only goes so far.”
Hart said it’s difficult to tell how many students are going to school in districts other than where they reside. “To hear some people tell it, there’s just an overwhelming number,” he said. “I suspect it’s probably less than what some would say via the grapevine … The point I’d like to stress is they don’t cheat the system with our permission.”
In situations where students are suspected of going to schools outside of their home district, Hart said he or one of the system’s social workers will actually go out and visit the home.
“Sometimes you get into a tricky situation where you’re not exactly sure what the factors are when you make the visit,” he said. “In the current economy, we’re running into more and more situations involving displaced families and homeless children and those type issues.”
When school officials are able to prove that students are attending schools outside their attendance zone without permission, they are required to return to their home school.
Emerson has expressed concern at board meetings about having to send Hart, “a highly educated man that went to school to be an educator,” out to be a detective. “He has to spend his valuable time tracking down people who have told lies about where they really live,” he said.
Some parents have even rented houses in another district so their children can go to school there, but don’t actually move into the house. Other people are angry about it, Emerson said, “and they blame the school board.”
In the case of North Rowan High School, Hart said fewer transfer requests have been approved for students in the district to attend another school. Of 37 requests received during the 2008-2009 school year, he said only 16 were approved by school administrators.
Nine of the 21 parents whose requests were denied filed appeals with the board’s Transfer Committee comprised of Emerson, Vice Chairwoman W. Jean Kennedy and Kay Wright Norman. After considering the appeals, the committee made recommendations to the school board for a final vote.
Two of the appeals were granted.
This resulted in a total of 18 transfers out of the North district being approved during the 2008-09 school year as compared to 27 in 2007-08 and 28 in 2006-07.
“North is losing less students to transfers than it used to,” Hart said. “I think there was a time when the transfer process was handled differently … I believe in the last two years, there has been a much stricter interpretation of the policy.”
In 2008-09, 18 students requested transfers to North, 13 of which were approved. The committee considered the one request, and the board later voted to deny it.
In 2007-08, three of seven requests to transfer to North were approved. An appeal filed for one of the four denied cases as approved.
The previous year, there were 24 requests to transfer to North, 17 of which were denied. The two appealed cases were denied a second time.
The school system’s student transfer policy lists the following possible reasons for granting a transfer:
– Change of Residence: Students who move from one school district to another during the school year are allowed to complete the current school year, but are transferred to the other school district at the beginning of the next school year.
– Special Curricular Needs: When students are unable to obtain specially needed courses in their regularly assigned school, they may be reassigned to another school in order to enroll in a program of study or academies for rising ninth graders. If students granted transfers fail to enroll and continue in a requested program or academy, their principal will recommend that the transfer be revoked.
Hart said a good example of a program that might require a student transfer is agriculture. The program is only available at West and South.
Transfers into high school academies for rising ninth graders will be granted on a space available basis with students in the academy host school being given first opportunity for enrollment.
– School Utilization: A student or group or students may be reassigned or transferred when it would provide for more orderly and efficient administration and operation of schools.
– Exceptional Student Program Transfers: Students who are identified as exceptional children by the Rowan-Salisbury Schools may be assigned to schools in attendance areas other than the ones in which they reside in order to ensure proper placement to meet their educational needs.
Hart said parents of autistic students might request a transfer, for example, because their home school does not offer a program for children with autism.
– Medical Condition: A request for transfer based upon the health of a student may be approved only in extraordinary circumstances. Requests should include a written statement from a licensed physician, psychiatrist or psychologist that includes a diagnosis of the medical condition and an explanation on specific medical advantages that are expected if transfer is granted.
– Hardship, Extreme or Unusual Circumstances: A request for transfer may be approved because of unforeseen, emergency or other extreme or unusual circumstances that affect a student’s achievement and/or behavior in the school. Such requests shall be considered upon the written request of the parent or guardian.
The policy states that students approved for transfer to a school outside their attendance zone must provide their own transportation to and from school; wait a year before athletic or cheerleading eligibility can be established; comply with the district’s attendance policy; exhibit exemplary conduct; maintain the academic average for promotion to the next grade level; and continued enrollment in requested courses.
Hart said the most common type of requests in this area deal with child care. Both parents, for example, may work long or unusual hours, he said, and the relative providing child care or transporting the student to and from school lives in another district.
“That’s something that potentially could enable a transfer to occur,” he said. “That’s more common with small children. It almost never happens in high school, but that’s not to say it couldn’t.”
Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249.