Wake County parents likely will find it harder to transfer their children into different schools this fall, especially if they’re trying to leave an under-enrolled school or get into a crowded school.
On Tuesday, the Wake County school board will consider changes to the student transfer policy that would give student assignment staff more authority to reject transfer requests. With requests that aren’t subject to automatic approval, staff would balance the best interests of the child versus the impact the transfer would have on the schools involved.
Another proposed policy change would expand the number of crowded schools that would be closed for transfer requests. A third change would put students who have already transferred on notice that they’re subject to being reassigned, a situation they normally wouldn’t face.
The various changes are supposed to address the concerns that school leaders have that an excessive number of transfers are leaving some schools depopulated and others overcrowded. School board member Jim Martin said North Carolina’s largest school system needs to “do a better job of dealing with our transfers.”
“We’ve gotten to the situation where we have too many on the transfer side,” Martin said at last month’s policy committee meeting.
But cutting back on transfers risks alienating parents who want the schools they think will best meet their children’s needs. Among other reasons, parents might request transfers because they want their child to take part in a program only available at certain schools, or because the destination school is more convenient for childcare.
Transfer requests are reviewed by student assignment staff. Rejections can be appealed to the school board.
Families lose school bus service if their transfer is approved. Even with the task of having to provide their own transportation, 13,190 students, or 8.4 percent of Wake’s 157,443 students, attend schools as transfer students.
The board isn’t planning to change transfers that are automatically approved, such as those given to school employees who want their children to attend the school where they work. They’re also not planning to remove the “grandfathering” protection given to some families who can stay at their current school even if they are reassigned.
What’s at issue are discretionary transfers, such as the large number of transfer students who are attending Heritage High School in Wake Forest. When staff wanted to reassign students out of Heritage to reduce crowding, parents who live in the school’s attendance area said it would be unfair to move their children while letting the transfer students stay.
The Heritage moves were dropped, but the controversy sparked the school board to review the transfer policy.
One result of the Heritage fight is new wording in the policy that says that transfer students “may be subject to reassignment.” Currently, only base students – those who live in attendance areas assigned to a school – are subject to being reassigned.
“We are opening the door so a transfer student knows that they’re not guaranteed for life,” school board member Susan Evans said at last month’s policy meeting.
Other changes would target methods of reviewing discretionary transfer requests.
Board members initially talked about banning students from transferring out of under-enrolled schools. The board also considered explicitly saying that assignment staff should consider the impact on the sending and receiving school as a reason for denying transfers.
But based on legal advice, board members agreed to go with more generic wording that lists “the proper administration of the schools” as a consideration that assignment staff could use to deny transfers. Board members said they expect staff to consider issues such as whether a transfer would leave a school under-enrolled.
Isn't enrollment at the "sending school," the one transferring a student to another school, part the school board's task of proper administration, Martin asked.
Families also could find fewer choices where they could request transfers into for this fall.
Currently, Wake identifies annually a list of schools that are so overcrowded that they’re placed on an enrollment cap that shuts them off from taking new transfer students. Staff has preliminarily recommended placing enrollment caps on 17 schools for the 2016-17 school year.
But new wording in the transfer policy would authorize the superintendent to identify additional schools that would be “presumptively closed to transfers.” Those schools would be publicly identified.
Deputy Superintendent Cathy Moore told the board the new wording would allow staff to exercise some judgment in limiting transfers to schools that are full but not yet capped. School board member Bill Fletcher said the idea made sense.
“This gives greater weight to administration to say we may have 10 open seats, but there are also people that are going to move into the base,” Fletcher said. “It makes sense for us to not give those final seats away to transfer students.”
Board members want to approve any policy revisions this month so they can go into effect before the early transfer application period begins in February.