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Kanawha schools prepare for new transfer policy

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Recent revisions to the student transfer policy have Kanawha County school administrators hopeful that overcrowded classrooms will be a thing of the past, but the new rules mean a major change, especially for families with more than one child in school.

"The biggest change is that siblings are not guaranteed that they can go to the same school," said school board member Robin Rector. "The previous policy said that all children automatically could go to the same school as their older brother or sister regardless of whether it's in their attendance zone. Now those children will have to apply separately, and enrollment and capacity will be factors."

 School board members approved the revisions, which make it harder for students to attend a school outside their attendance zone, at a board meeting earlier this week.

The new policy not only eliminates the automatic sibling rule, but also requires students who move to a new area to go to school in that district. It also would remove out-of-area transfers if a school becomes too crowded or if the student is consistently tardy or absent.

Out-of-area transfer requests are still allowed, but a student will face more regulations and oversight to get approval, and there will be more focus on the headcount and student-to-teacher ratio at the school that child or teenager wants to attend.

If a student wants to go to school outside their attendance zone for a reason other than to take advantage of the "high school choice" program -- which offers accelerated, specialized classes -- their applications will now be reviewed by their home school principal and county administrators.

"If you move to a new home in the middle of the year, a child will be able to finish out that year, but the next year, they will either have to apply to stay there or go to the new school in which they've moved," said Jane Roberts, assistant superintendent in charge of Kanawha's elementary schools. "That's a big change. In the past, when you moved, you could continue to take your child to the school they were at before and stay there."

Students who have already transferred into a different school zone and were approved under the old policy will not be affected by the change, Roberts said. The new policy will go into effect for the next school year.

In order to stay in a "high school choice" program, students must maintain a 3.0 grade-point average in the program, as well as a 2.0 overall GPA each semester.

The policy also dissects the term "residence" when it comes to enrolling a student, clarifying that simply owning or leasing property does not allow a student to attend that district and warns that school officials could visit homes to determine residency.

The revised policy comes after months of debate between school board members and parents over crammed South Hills-area schools, which are known for strong test scores and successful academic programs that led to more and more students asking to transfer in.

Roberts said she's already received calls this week from concerned parents about the new policy.

"I think it's an issue that impacts a lot of families," she said. "No matter which way you go, . . . it's always an emotional issue for families."

Rector said, with more housing developments popping up in the Corridor G area, a stricter transfer policy has to be enforced to prevent overcrowded classrooms. And while the school board struggles with a tight budget, cracking down on out-of-area students is simpler than building additions to schools.

"We have to plan to be able to house the kids who actually live in the area. If we don't get a handle on those coming from outside of the district, we've really got an issue," she said. "We've got to work with what we've got. It just makes sense to have all of your schools at capacity -- not under- or over-utilized.

"My big issue is that, every time we take a student out of an area that may be a really good academic performer, it denies the schools where they reside the chance to have that student," she said. "They don't have a chance to really thrive in those schools.  . . . They could be role models for other students in the area."

Recruiting for sports is another area of concern the new policy is intended to address. Under the new policy, the state Secondary School Activities Commission will still help oversee eligibility for student athletes, but Rector says the revisions will better allow a "case-by-case" evaluation of transfer applications.

"Everybody has the dream that they're going to be in the NFL or the NBA, and the truth of the matter is, you do need the attention of a successful program. Students tend to think, if they can get at a certain school, they are more likely to garner that scholarship attention," she said. "Athletics is not given any more attention than any other area with this policy, though.

"There's more attention, really, on kids who need a fresh start . . . [and maybe] had problems at the school that they're in," she said.

School board member Bill Raglin, though, voiced some concerns about the revisions of the new policy, saying it lacks quantifiable regulations.

"My concern is that it's a subjective assessment," Raglin said of the new policy, which would pull transfer students out for tardiness, absences or behavioral problems. "We need assurance that everybody is treated the same way."

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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