Wake Ed

New student assignment rules approved for some Cary students

Students move between classes at Mills Park Elementary in Cary NC on Nov. 22, 2016. To encourage Mills Park fourth-grade students to go to the new Hortons Creek Elementary, those students who accept the reassignment will be able to avoid being reassigned in 2019 to a new middle school opening next to Alston Ridge Elementary.
Students move between classes at Mills Park Elementary in Cary NC on Nov. 22, 2016. To encourage Mills Park fourth-grade students to go to the new Hortons Creek Elementary, those students who accept the reassignment will be able to avoid being reassigned in 2019 to a new middle school opening next to Alston Ridge Elementary. cseward@newsobserver.com

Some Cary families will get partial – but not full – relief from the Wake County school system to avoid having to attend four different schools in the next four years.

The newly adopted 2017-18 student assignment plan includes special grandfathering rules that will allow some students at Alston Ridge and Mills Park elementary schools to attend three schools in four years instead of four schools. The school board rejected a more generous grandfathering option that would have allowed those students to only go to two schools in four schools.

The reason for not giving the more extensive grandfathering protection is school leaders want to encourage families to move to the new Hortons Creek Elementary School while still allowing students the option to stay at Alston Ridge and Mills Park.

Under grandfathering, some students who are moved to a different school are automatically allowed to stay at their current school if they provide their own transportation. This “stay where you start” provision covers rising fourth-, fifth- and eighth-graders assigned to new schools and current students reassigned to another existing school.

School officials say about 1,100 of the 2,369 current students who could be moved next year in the new assignment plan are eligible for grandfathering. In the case of the families facing four schools in four years, it affected 40 Mills Park fourth-grade students and a larger but unspecified number of Alston Ridge fourth-graders.

During the development of the new assignment plan, parents fighting the reassignment to Hortons Creek brought up the issue of four assignments in four years.

Under this family unfriendly scenario, some current fourth-grade students at Alston Ridge and Mills Park elementary schools will be reassigned to Hortons Creek in 2017. Those students will attend Mills Park Middle in 2018 and could be moved to a still-unnamed M-16 middle school opening next to Alston Ridge Elementary in 2019.

To deal with the instability issue, student assignment staff gave the school board three alternatives.

Under option one, the current fourth-graders moving to Hortons Creek would have been kept as a team in sixth-grade at Mills Park and reassigned together to M-16 in 2019. Those students would still attend four schools in four years but would spend time with each other during the next few years to help with the transition.

Under option two, the current fourth-graders who took the assignment to Hortons Creek would be eligible to grandfather at Mills Park Middle in 2019 as rising seventh-graders instead of going to M-16. This is different than normal because Wake typically only allows rising eighth-graders to grandfather when they’re reassigned to a newly opening middle school.

Under option three, the current fourth-graders would be able to grandfather at Mills Park Middle in 2019 regardless of whether they accepted the reassignment to Hortons Creek or grandfathered next year to stay at Alston Ridge or Mills Park.

Option two would lead to students having three different schools in four years. Option three would lead to students having two different schools in four years.

The school board, including the members whose terms ended before Tuesday’s final vote on the assignment plan, reviewed the options at last week’s work session. There wasn’t support for option one. But there was debate whether Wake should go with option two or three.

The concern was whether offering option three might encourage more students to grandfather for fifth-grade and not go to Hortons Creek.

In arguing against option three, school board member Bill Fletcher reminded his colleagues that grandfathering also covers the younger siblings of students when they’re going to the same school at the same time. He said that the more students that grandfather at Mills Park would delay how long the assignment changes take to reduce crowding at the school.

School board member Susan Evans, in one of her last meetings, urged her colleagues to back option two.

“It might at least encourage some folks to go on and make the transition to Hortons Creek, in which case they’d have transportation for elementary school,” Evans said at last Tuesday’s work session.

The board told staff to go with option two. On Tuesday, no request was made to modify the grandfathering rules.

Not every family can provide their own transportation to take advantage of the grandfathering. As a result, you will see some Mills Park and Alston Ridge students going to four schools in four years.

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