Policy changes would restrict school transfers

The Johnston County Board of Education is considering policy changes that would limit the reasons a student could switch schools.

The proposed changes would no longer explicitly allow students to transfer for a specific academic program or for a medical hardship.

Johnston Schools Superintendent Ross Renfow said schools are now offering many of the same programs, so he believes reassigning students for academic reasons has become unnecessary. As for medical hardships, he said the district would continue to evaluate applications on a case-by-case basis but that the district would no longer mention health and medical reasons in its reassignment policy.

“A parent always has the right to declare a hardship; just explain the rationalities,” Renfrow said. “Just tell us why your student needs a reassignment. We’re caring and compassionate people.”

If the board of education approves the changes at this month’s meeting, the schools would allow transfers only for children of Johnston school employees and for those demonstrating a specific hardship. Renfrow said that the vast majority of transfers come from school system employees requesting their kids attend the school where they work.

This year, of the 331 reassignment requests ruled on before the start of classes, the schools approved 295. Princeton Middle and High School saw the highest number of approved reassignments with 29, and Smithfield-Selma High School was next with 27. Of the students denied transfers, most were Cooper Elementary students seeking to attend Riverwood Elementary.

Most families seeking transfers do so for a specific reason, Renfrow said. Few say they simply don’t want to attend a school, he said.

“We get very little of that anymore, and we don’t entertain those requests anymore,” Renfrow said, because of crowding. “So many of our schools are so far overcapacity.”

Each year Johnston identifies schools that are maxed out, referring to them as “capped schools.” This year, 23 schools have enrollment caps, including Cooper Elementary, Selma Middle and Corinth Holders High School.

Another proposed change to the reassignment policy would deny any transfer request that would require the school to hire additional teachers.

“We monitor class size so closely, we actually collaborate on a daily basis, particularly in the summer,” Renfrow said. “Especially in the elementary grades, we have firm grade-level caps. We have to say to a school, you’re going to be above the average and will have to put another teacher out there if you add one student, two students. HR may determine that the school can accept one student, but two would be too many.”

Accommodating the commutes and schedules of parents is one of the common reasons the district grants reassignments, Renfrow said.

“Let’s say I live in Princeton but work in Raleigh,” Renfrow said. “I may want to drop my student off at East Clayton Elementary on my way to work. So many people living in Johnston County these days are not native to Johnston County and may not have the support network of grandparents and relatives of someone who grew up here and can have a student catch the bus or be dropped off after school. They may not want to leave an elementary-aged student by the roadside at 6 in the morning to catch the bus.”

For medical hardships, Renfrow said families would sometimes ask for their student to attend schools close to where parents work, so that in the case of allergic reactions or some other specific emergency, parents would be nearby.

“There are so many reasons a family may request an in-county transfer,” Renfrow said.

As for the academic programs, Renfrow said that when he was the principal at North Johnston High School, families would sometimes request reassignment to Clayton or Smithfield-Selma high schools for the ROTC program. Now that all high schools have ROTC programs, the schools have no reason to grant those kind of transfers, Renfrow said.

He also said technology has enabled the district to consider broadcasting certain teachers into multiple schools, again reducing the to reassign students.

Families seeking reassignment have until the third Friday in May to make their case.