More Wake County families could have to change schools next year so the district can meet a new state mandate to lower class sizes in elementary school.
Wake County school board members gave tentative approval Monday to cut back on the number of students who’d be eligible to “grandfather” at their current school and not be moved to a different school for the 2018-19 school year. The change, pending final board approval, would allow Wake to more quickly move students to get schools in line with the new class-size limitations.
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“(Grandfathering) was a nod to families, but it made it difficult for administration to administer the policy,” said school board member Keith Sutton, chairman of the student achievement committee. “Now when you add the two burdens of growth and the class-size piece, it’s a way for us to try to get back some control as we wrap our arms around the situation and manage things a little bit better.”
The changes will be reflected in the first draft of the 2018-19 student assignment plan that will be presented next week.
Wake is in a bind because state lawmakers lowered school district class sizes for kindergarten through third grade in 2018 to an average of roughly 17 students, compared with 21 children this past school year. Wake will have to create space for the equivalent of 559 classrooms and 9,500 students.
Principals at the majority of Wake’s 113 elementary schools say they can meet the smaller class sizes by taking steps next year such as converting art and music spaces to regular classrooms and increasing class sizes for older children. But principals at 27 elementary schools say they need outside help to make it work, which could include removing some of their students.
Options for making it work at those 27 schools include removing some of the students who transferred in from other schools and putting in place enrollment caps that would keep newly arriving families from attending.
Another option is to reassign some students to schools that have more space. But in recent years, Wake has put in “stay where you start” rules that have given more families the ability to stay at their current school and not be moved as long as they provide their own transportation.
On Monday, school board members said they’d support cutting back on who is eligible for “stay where you start.” They said they’d support only letting rising fifth-, eighth, 11th- and 12th-graders who are moved to any school in 2018 to grandfather at their current school.
“The rules are too loose and delay the impact of any changes we make too long,” school board member Bill Fletcher said at Monday’s committee meeting.
The change is especially significant for students who face being moved to an existing school. Previously, Wake has allowed every student who is moved to an existing school to grandfather at their current school because they’re not going to a new school with all the latest amenities.
School board member Jim Martin said it’s more consistent to have the same grandfathering strategy for both new and existing schools.
If the changes are approved, some students who used to get their grandfathering requests automatically approved would now have to apply for a “hardship transfer” that might be rejected.
Still left to be resolved is whether Wake will continue to let families extend the grandfathering protection given to older siblings on to younger brothers and sisters. If this right is removed, siblings would be split between different schools unless the older child is willing to move to the same school as the younger brother or sister.
“I believe we may not be talking about this if it wasn’t for what’s to come and will be imposed on us next year,” said school board member Lindsay Mahaffey.