SIOUX FALLS (AP) – The Sioux Falls school board next month will look at changing the district’s open enrollment policy.
The possible changes come as the district prepares to open two new schools in fall of 2021. They also come amid allegations of favoritism among high schools and bias in existing policies, which residents noted during community meetings when boundary changes were discussed earlier this year.
Any changes could impact parents’ options in where their kids attend school. The board is expected read its first possible policy changes in October and then open it up for the public to weigh in, before a final vote, said Brett Arenz, the district’s in-house legal counsel.
Open enrollment applications can be accepted starting Dec. 1 for the next school year, the Argus Leader reported.
The big pieces the district is evaluating are controlling growth and where the district wants students to land now that the new boundaries have been set, Superintendent Jane Stavem said.
The other component? Looking at how specialized schools or programs have been viewed in terms of students feeding from one school to the next as they move up in grade levels, she said.
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“We need to balance those things of wanting to make sure we get populations of kids in the right places so we maximize our facilities,” Stavem said. “And that we also do some things that contribute to making sure we have equitable experiences.”
When a student applies for open enrollment, they don’t have to apply again each year after, Arenz said. That means the district needs to have a place for students to move to once they move up in grade level, he said.
In years past, those enrollments have been assigned, and calculated based on capacity at a school prior to open enrollment, he said.
“We want to talk through that, and how you see that with specialized schools,” he said.
The district also must look at how it handles sibling preferences for out-of-district open enrollments, he said. Typically, if there were two siblings, the district would take both or neither, he said. For in-district, sometimes the students would be split up.
Officials will have to weigh where it might be possible to offer the same standards for both, he said.
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The district will also have to determine open enrollment capacities, which can be based on things like building size, grade size, program size and class size under law, he said. That number for the district will be dictated by the number of rooms available in a school and how they’re used, Assistant Superintendent Jamie Nold said.
It’ll also be driven by overall enrollment numbers and how many incoming seniors opt to be grandfathered into their current schools their graduating year instead of the new school they may attend because of the recent boundary changes, he said.
The district will know those numbers before December, Nold said. And any fluctuation to a specialized program or room would necessitate a change to the policy each time, Arenz said.
The board is hoping to have those numbers posted somewhere for families to easily find and understand annually, and possibly include some sort of disclaimer language for buildings to have what they need to turn students away if necessary, board members said.
“We want to make sure three years down the road we don’t have a junior or senior class that’s 200-300 students because we put a plan in place that didn’t allow kids to balance out,” Nold said.
Right now, every student has the option of attending their home attendance school or applying for open enrollment, Arenz said. But the district assigns a school for fifth and eight grade students so that as they move to middle or high school, they have the option to continue the specialized program, he said.
And for things like the middle school honors program, there’s no designated honors program for high school, he said. Meanwhile, the Spanish immersion program continues on into high school.
“I feel like it was giving a false narrative to our other high schools that maybe they didn’t have the same program ability that Lincoln (High School) does, and they do,” board President Cynthia Mickelson said. “That has left a bad taste in the other high schools’ mouths for several years, because of maybe the loss of students who maybe would have gone to their home attendance center.”
She wants to end the issue with the honors program and the stigma, she said. Board member Kate Parker mentioned similar concerns about All-City Elementary, while others questioned which programs should be cut off at eighth grade.
As for Spanish immersion, Mickelson said the district needs to come up with a better long-term plan for how the program will grow and not overwhelm a single campus.
“This will hopefully push toward that long-term plan,” Mickelson said. “You know, will this go to two buildings in middle schools to allow more students?”
Stavem said some of those conversations may be better for strategic planning purposes, though.
Part of this process is separating things again the way they should be, meaning that there’s an open enrollment process and a specialized program, Arenz said.
“We have a lot of things wrapped up in this one policy,” Stavem said.
Stavem said she’d like to see some form of a simple table about how enrollment progression happens within the district. Board members have also asked for more information and data before possible policy changes are presented in October for the first time.