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More than 90 Wake County schools are closed for transfer requests

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More than half of Wake County’s schools are closed for transfer requests as parents try to change their children’s scheduled school for this fall.

The Wake County school system’s “hardship transfer period,” that runs until May 16, is the last time that families of current students can request a different school assignment for the 2016-17 school year. But the choices are limited, with 92 of Wake’s 171 schools closed to receiving new transfer students as part of a new district effort to control overcrowding.

Wake has so many schools on the closed list because the 157,180-student district grows by about 2,000 students annually. In addition to limiting transfers to control crowding, school officials say principals need to know how many students they’ll have so they can plan for the next school year.

“For years, parents told us they wished we had told them ahead of time that school was crowded before they applied,” Laura Evans, Wake’s senior director of student assignment, said in an interview Thursday. “Now we are.”

By calling it the “hardship transfer period,” Wake is emphasizing that families need to show compelling reasons to get requests approved. Wake warns families online that “the (school) Board considers school assignment transfers to be appropriate only in rare or exceptional circumstances.” Wake is also stressing more explicitly that families will not get school bus service if their transfer is approved.

But despite the long odds, success stories still occur.

Martha Rothchild found out Wednesday that she won’t have to send her 8-year-old son Brennan to Kingswood Elementary in Cary. The news came a day after her hardship transfer was initially rejected.

“We just wanted to get him to a school close to home and they still denied it,” Rothchild said Wednesday. “Yesterday was spent in amazement and disappointment in the system. To hear today differently was a shock. Yes, we’re elated.”

Last year, 2,526 of 3,999 hardship transfers filed between May 1 and June 30 were approved, a rate of 63 percent. Rejections can be appealed to the school board. Evans said she expects the number of requests and approvals to drop this year.

The impetus arose from last fall’s school board discussion about how schools such as Heritage High in Wake Forest and Leesville Road Elementary in Raleigh are overcrowded because both accepted so many students who don’t live in their attendance areas. Some families preferred the calendar or programs at those two schools over what was offered at the schools assigned to their address.

The complaints led to changes in the transfer policy and the guidelines used by staff to oversee requests.

One change is listing online an expanded list of schools closed to transfers. Previously only schools placed under an enrollment cap – that kept out new students who moved into their attendance area – were closed to transfers.

“Student choice has ended up crowding some schools to the point where we have to put an enrollment cap on a school and are keeping out people who live in the base,” Evans said. “That doesn’t seem right.”

Evans said that all schools at more than 100 percent of enrollment capacity are on the closed list. She said her staff also included schools on the closed list that are between 95 percent and 100 percent of capacity and are in high-growth areas.

Evans said all requests to get into the 15 schools capped for this fall are automatically rejected by staff. Evans said requests to get into the other 77 schools on the list may be approved by her staff, but it’s a “long shot.”

“It has to be a pretty compelling reason, especially if we’re going to override a school on the closed list,” Evans said.

Evans said that she couldn’t discuss the specifics of Rothchild’s case. But her staff apparently found a compelling reason to let the family into one of the closed schools, Olive Chapel Elementary in Apex.

Rothchild had successfully applied in January to leave Olive Chapel for the magnet program at Kingswood. But she said a change in her work schedule would make it too difficult for her to drive her son to Kingswood this fall.

Transfer requests to leave Kingswood were rejected in February and again on Tuesday. After the last rejection, Rothchild filled out the paperwork to enroll Brennan in a private school before learning Wednesday he could stay at Olive Chapel.

“Why didn’t they approve this months ago?” Rothchild said. “Why did they put me through months of unnecessary stress? I don’t understand why they made me jump through all these hoops.”

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui

Requesting a hardship transfer

Go to www.wcpss.net for more information on Wake County school system hardship transfers, including a link to the online application and to see which schools are accepting transfers.

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