Could Wake County's new student assignment plan harm charter schools?
As noted in today's article, charter school parents and students complain that they're too low on the selection priority list in the assignment plan. They're worried that this will hurt their ability when they leave charter schools to get into the schools in the district they had hoped to attend.
The issue is more focused on the middle schools and high schools due to the use of feeder patterns.
First dibs at the secondary schools goes to students from the feeder schools. Then the remaining seats are filled via the selection process.
Top priority goes to siblings. Then comes students who live within 1.5 miles of the school. Then comes students who are applying to their closest school.
School officials have repeatedly cited how students leaving charter schools and current district students trying to leave their feeder pattern are treated the same.
But the charter school parents argue they should have at least the same as if not higher priority than the feeder pattern students.
Under the old plan's base assignments, charter school students knew when they opt out, often for high school, which school they'd get into. With the new plan that isn't so certain, especially after parents saw the apparent low number of available seats at many high schools.
With the feeder patterns in place, could this cause some families to not apply to charter schools? Similar questions have been raised about whether it would discourage applications to magnet schools, which may explain in part why the numbers were down this year.
Several parents and students from Exploris Middle School, a charter school in downtown Raleigh, voiced their complaints at last week's school board meeting.
“Exploris is a public school just like Daniels, Martin and Ligon," said Lucas Meeks, an Exploris eighth-grader. "We should have the same chance to go to a high school that is more convenient to us. We shouldn’t be denied this chance just because we go to a public school, especially like a charter school, long before the assignment plan was conceived."
His father, Robert Meeks, charged politics was behind the selection priorities.
“Treating publicly funded charter students as if they had arrived from another area arises from a notion that this is a warfare way to keep seats open for children from your somewhat arbitrarily defined feeder schools and thus reduce the number of potential complaints when you drop this plan on the community in the next couple of months," Robert Meeks said. "This policy will guarantee however that a whole bunch of charter school parents will be unhappy."
Ellie Buckner, an eighth-grader, complained it was unfair to force her to decide whether she should leave Exploris mid-school year to get into a school district middle school that feeds into Broughton High.
“It seems just because I chose to attend a charter school before the new plan was approved that I’m being treated differently as though I’m not as important as the kids in traditional schools now," Buckner said
Nathan Davis, an eighth-grader, noted that he only lives 1.1 miles from Apex High. He said he was concerned that capacity shortfalls would result him going to Athens Drive High, which is much further away.
“I attended elementary school in the Wake County Public School System," Davis said. "When it came time to go to middle school, I chose to attend Exploris with the understanding that I would be an automatic entry into my base high school, which is Apex High. I feel like I’m being punished for going outside of the Wake County Public School System for middle school because now I’m no longer guaranteed entry into my neighborhood high school."
“It seems incredibly unfair that a student gets higher priority than I do simply on the basis of what middle school they attend and not on their actual proximity to the school," Davis later said.
Both Buckner and Davis wound up withdrawing from Exploris to go to their base middle school. That probably won't be an option since Wake says that you had to be in a school by Jan. 13 to not have to apply in the selection process for this fall. But Buckner's mom said she got an exemption.
Buckner's and Davis' parents said that Wake should have at least preassigned the rising sixth- and ninth-graders from charter schools to a feeder pattern.
Superintendent Tony Tata said that more seats than now show up will become available as students leave their feeder pattern.
Tata also agreed when GOP school board member John Tedesco said that high schools will have to be flexible considering how capacity is limited at most schools. Tedesco said he expects schools to take more students than the capacity numbers would indicate.
In the end, Tedesco said charter parents will like the plan, especially now that they'll have more options, special programs and the guarantee of stability.
“What you’re hearing from families is the fear of the unknown,” Tedesco said.