Education

‘My kids will not be used as pawns.’ Wake parents fight student reassignment plan.

Updated Oct. 22.

Some Wake County families are unhappy that they could be moved next year to schools that are further away, on a different calendar and potentially also have lower test scores.

Earlier this month, the Wake County school system released the first draft of a new student assignment plan that would move some students in the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years. The proposal has drawn complaints on the district’s online comment forum from parents who think the reassignments would hurt their children’s education.

“My kids will not be used as pawns to fill under performing schools!” Shelaun Williams, a Fuquay-Varina parent, wrote on the forum. “They are not test subjects and this is not something we can re-do if it fails.

“If my children were to switch and their test scores drop, that’s something that can affect them for years to come — why would I want to risk that?”

School officials say the majority of the moves are related to filling South Lakes Elementary, opening in Fuquay-Varina in 2020, and Willow Spring High, opening in 2021. The rest of the moves, according to student assignment staff, are meant to reduce crowding at some schools, fill some under-enrolled schools and improve transportation efficiency.

Some families are preparing to show up at public meetings that will be held beginning this week. The next draft is expected Nov. 5, with the school board voting on the plan Dec. 3.

Parents don’t want to go to a lower-scoring school

Some of the most passionate objections have come from parents whose children could be moved to schools that have lower test scores.

For instance, student assignment staff want to move students from Banks Road Elementary (62% passing on state exams) to Smith Elementary (48% passing) and from Holly Grove Middle (76% passing) to North Garner Middle (52% passing).

“This is comparable to moving a student from Harvard to Detroit Community College,” Cesar Reyes, a Banks Road parent, wrote on the forum.

Similar concerns have been raised by families about being reassigned from Highcroft Elementary (89% passing), White Oak Elementary (87% passing) and Mills Park Middle (92% passing). They’re proposed to be moved to Salem Elementary (60% passing) and Salem Middle (76% passing).

Several parents have threatened to pull their children from the district if they’re moved. Six new charter schools are slated to open in Wake County in 2020. Charter school enrollment has grown faster than the district’s enrollment in recent years.

“We hope you will agree that the right decision is to leave our school assignments as the White Oak Elementary and Mills Park Middle School,” Manasi and Sid Basu of Cary wrote on the forum. “If this doesn’t happen, we will move our kids to Private or charter schools and we will ensure that they are not made into lab rats and that they do not attend an inferior school like Salem that we did not intend for their education and growth.”

Wake school officials are cautioning against making judgments based on test scores or ratings on websites such as GreatSchools.org

“We encourage you not to judge a school based on a third-party website,” Matt Dees, a Wake school spokesman, said on the forum. “Go pay a visit to Salem! The benefit of visiting a school greatly outweighs any information you can glean from an online search.”

The district added a section Tuesday on school ratings to the discussion forum that tells parents that a school can’t be distilled to a single score.

“Here’s the real issue — all school rankings are based almost entirely on test scores,” Wake posted Tuesday. “And as research has found, test scores often tell us much more about socioeconomic status of their students than about the quality of the schools.

“Regardless of which school they attend, studies show that the average scores of students from low income families are almost always lower than the average scores of their more affluent peers, even if they attend schools with generally high scores.”

Parents want to stay at neighborhood schools

Some parents are objecting to their children being moved from their neighborhood school, especially if it means going to a school outside of town.

“It makes no since to move a child out of a neighborhood school to be bused to another town’s HS,” Debbie Negron, a Holly Springs parent wrote on the forum about her daughter being reassigned to Fuquay-Varina High. “My daughter is starting middle school next year in Holly Springs and we want her to stay in our town.

“We didn’t buy a house in Holly Springs for her to attend Fuquay schools.”

Dees has reminded parents that Wake is a countywide school system and not a municipal district.

“It is not uncommon at all for students to attend school in a different municipality than where they live,” he added on the forum.

Parents want to know why in some cases their children could be moved to schools that are further from their home.

“We always try to assign students to the most proximate school, but it is not always possible in order to have balanced populations at each school,” Dees wrote online. “In this case we are proposing changes to account for both current crowding and projected growth.”

Parents object to changing school calendars

Some of the proposed moves would cause families to change calendars,with some traditional-calendar students moving to year-round schools and vice versa.

Both year-round and traditional-calendar schools have the same number of school days. But the breaks are broken up differently, with the long summer vacation at traditional-calendar schools being split into short breaks throughout the schedule at year-round schools.

Parents say changing schools would disrupt their family schedules due to the calendar change.

“We had our house built in this neighborhood specifically to enter a school zone with a traditional calendar schedule,” Steven Ray, a White Oak Elementary parent, wrote on the forum, “It is untenable to force us and our neighbors to be subjected to a year-round school schedule when our major life choices were made with the understanding that our school zone was on a traditional calendar.”

Dees said that families who are reassigned can apply to attend a school that’s on the same calendar they’re now on. But he added that Wake can’t guarantee that all the requests will be approved, especially if demand exceeds available seat..

Speak out on assignment plan

People can go to https://www.wcpss.net/2020enrollmentproposal to view the proposal and to see whether their address is affected. Parents are asked to submit comments at https://bit.ly/2mJQre6.

Public meetings on the assignment proposal will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on:

Thursday at Salem Elementary School, 6116 Old Jenks Road, Apex.

Oct. 29 at Fuquay-Varina High School (future home of Willow Spring High School), 1704 Old Honeycutt Road, Fuquay-Varina.

Oct. 30 at Wakefield High School, 2200 Wakefield Pines Drive, Raleigh.

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.
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