Choosing Law or Foran: Revised policy would leave no choice

Some parents are up in arms about what they see as a school policy change that would prohibit them from requesting that their child go to an elementary, middle or high school other than the one in their district.

School officials, however, say they aren’t changing the policy, just clarifying it.

School Supt. Dr. Elizabeth Feser presented new wording to Policy 5117, School Attendance Areas, at the board’s March 14 meeting.

She said school attendance areas are determined by the Board of Education and that the current policy, put in place in 1995, states students must attend the school in the attendance area they reside in.

“It has been interpreted differently over the years, resulting in inconsistency of practice which has prompted concerns,” according to minutes from the meeting.

During the reconfiguration and redistricting of the elementary schools the board developed criteria with the desire to balance enrollment to ensure parity in available resources across schools, the meeting minutes note. Dr. Feser said administration believes the current policy needs to be revised to honor these goals and that the existing situation is not healthy to the school district.
Current policy
The current policy is relatively brief. It says, “Pupils will attend the school designated within the school boundary in which the pupil resides except that in the best interests of the child the superintendent of schools, with his/her sole discretion, may approve a pupil's attending a school in another boundary."Over the years Milford students have taken advantage of, for example, the chance to pick their high school.

One local woman, now, 30, said she attended Foran High School instead of Jonathan Law High School, which was in her district. She had attended Harborside Middle School, which splits for high school, with some of the class moving on to Foran and some to Law.

“We got broken up,” the Milford woman said. “My closest group of friends happened to be assigned to go to Foran. That’s a really tough time for a preteen or young teen, and it was not an easy decision, but I asked if I could go to Foran.”

Keeping siblings together is important, she said, noting that her sister followed her in attending Foran.

“It wasn’t always, ‘Yay I’m with my friends, because if I missed  a bus to be in a club for a half hour after school I had to wait for  a ride sometimes for hours because I was out of district, but it was worth it,” she said.

Lara Edmondson, a local parent, said she has a child at Harborside Middle School who had planned to follow siblings and attend Foran High School. But the policy revision appears to rule that out because the family lives in the Law district.

She said the revised policy stands to impact a group of Milford students who have been subject to too many changes already, due to school reconfiguration and restricting. One more change to what they had expected in terms of their children’s education has parents in Edmondson’s shoes saying enough is enough.

Some parents who spoke up at a March 28 school board meeting also talked about programs that are offered at one high school and not the other.

Edmondson said she hasn’t heard a clear explanation as to why the revised policy is being considered.
The proposed policy
The proposed revision has specific language regarding exceptions that will and will not be considered regarding out of district school attendance.

It states that exceptions will be granted if the decision is made by the Special Education Planning and Placement Team or if “significant extenuating circumstances” can be demonstrated.

Exceptions will not be granted for the following reasons: Previous attendance at the desired school; school attendance of brothers, sisters or friends; parents’ or student’s place or time of employment; school start or end time preferences; convenience of family or student; athletic team preference; preferred school or staff, or the availability of space in the preferred school.

The policy outlines steps for applying for attendance at a different school and says permission is granted for only one year.

The policy also says that a student who is graduating from an out of district elementary school must then attend his or her designated middle or high school.

The policy also addresses families that move during the school year, and notes that parents are responsible for providing transportation.

Students who were allowed to attend an out of district school can stay at the school until graduating from the school, but then will have to move on to the middle or high school in their district, the policy states.
Next steps
The revised policy has not been adopted yet. According to School Board Chairman Susan Glennon the board, at its March 28 meeting, asked administration to put together options for how siblings would be addressed where grandfathering is concerned.

The matter will be discussed at the board’s April meeting, but Glennon said that if the matter isn’t settled, then voting on the revised policy will likely be put off until May.

Glennon said that while the existing policy states that students must attend the school in their district, she believes that it was interpreted differently over the years and that may have led parents to believe they had open choice about which school their child attended.