Guiding principles to shape new attendance areas and a new intradistrict transfer regulation were approved Monday night by the Columbia School Board.
The principles are intended to guide the process of making new boundaries for student attendance, which are needed because a seventh middle school is set to open for the 2020 school year.
The attendance areas will be finalized by the April board meeting, said Randy Gooch, the Chief Operations Officer for Columbia Public Schools. Those areas will go into effect in August 2020. This would give parents more than a year to figure out what school their children will attend.
Construction of the new middle school, on Sinclair Road in southwestern Columbia, comes partly in response to concerns of overcrowding at Gentry Middle School.
Gooch said a consultant, Scott Leopold from the Ohio office of Cooperative Strategies, is overseeing the process of redrawing school attendance area boundaries. He will also conduct focus groups in the community.
Leopold will be at the October board meeting to discuss a timeline and scope of the work being done, Gooch said. A committee will not be formed to address the attendance areas as has been done in the past, Gooch said.
Peter Stiepleman, district superintendent, said community members and internal stakeholders will be able to provide input. The board emphasized that it doesn’t want anyone to feel excluded in the process of redrawing the attendance areas.
The seven principles include:
- Reflecting the district’s composition.
- Anticipating future growth of neighborhoods.
- Considering how long students spend on buses.
- Creating community through the power of a school attendance area.
The guidelines are similar to what has been used in the past, Gooch said, but there is a slight change so that attendance areas “follow natural and manmade boundaries.”
“We want to really consider not making boundaries on the same road where neighbors will look at each other but go to separate schools,” Gooch said.
The board unanimously approved the principles, which Gooch referred to as a “philosophical belief document.”
The last principle recommends a transfer policy that allows eighth- and 12th-graders to remain at their previous school and policies that allow their siblings to remain.
Students transferring schools within the district has been an issue since October 2016, when a committee began discussing how to redraw school boundaries.
Parents voiced their concerns in January 2017, when the board proposed transferring students from Gentry to Jefferson Middle School. Parents were concerned about how driving time would affect their families if their student transferred and how the transfer would affect their child’s mental health.
The board also approved a regulation that requires students to attend the school in their new assigned attendance area, even if it transfers them to a new middle school.
Students will transfer into their new school district unless:
- It’s otherwise required by law.
- The superintendent assigns the student to a different school.
- A voluntary transfer has been approved by board policy.
Other exceptions regarding transfers that took place last year or will take place before the 2020-21 school year are as follows:
- Students who attend Gentry will be given a transfer option to attend another middle school.
- Students who transfer to another middle school will still attend the high school associated with their home address.
- Families who transfer out of Gentry can remain there throughout middle school.
- Younger siblings who were not in middle school can attend the same one as the older sibling, as long as that school is not considered overcrowded.
- Transportation will not be provided for students who request a transfer from Gentry to another middle school.
Stiepleman said the district was following these rules last year but hadn’t published them yet.
“So we’re just asking the board to allow us to publish them in order to be really transparent,” he said.
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