In hopes of avoiding situations like last year at Cunniff School when classes got overcrowded the School Committee’s Policy Subcommittee approved recommendations to allow the superintendent to place students out of their neighborhood school if it avoids large class sizes.
In June, the School Committee requested that Superintendent Jean Fitzgerald freeze enrollment at the town’s three elementary schools, and not place students coming in over the summer until August. They also requested that the Policy Subcommittee come up with a policy to place the students.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Fitzgerald told the subcommittee she thought that the current policies regarding attendance areas and assignment of students to schools gave her the tools she needed to make the placement.
Students will still be placed in their neighborhood school when possible, Fitzgerald said, but if classes are too large at the school, they will be placed in other schools.
She said she will have a central registrar who will be located in the School Administration offices in the Phillips Building. It will be located near other programs parents may need, such as Special Education and English Language Learner (formerly ESL).
“It is good we are centralizing registration,” Fitzgerald said. “Even if we had all the room in the world I would want it. It will be near ELL and Special Education, so it will be like one-stop shopping.”
The policies say students should be placed in their neighborhood school, unless there are other factors, such as overcrowding or to be placed in certain programs only available at another school.
The subcommittee also heard a proposal from School Committee Chairman John Portz, who recommended a section be added to the Assignment of Students to Schools policy that spells out the criteria for making a placement outside of the neighborhood school.
Portz said it would give the superintendent something to point to when telling parents why a student cannot go to their local school.
“My intent is to put some School Committee voice here and give the superintendent some cover,” Portz said.
He added that the policy said that the Attendance Area allows exceptions that are “in the best interest of the student and/or the schools,” a statement he said is too vague. He wanted to put in several criteria to spell out what the superintendent is looking at when making placement decisions.
School Committee member Eileen Hsu-Balzer said she thought the proposal was too specific.
“I think policies should be less specific,” Hsu-Balzer said. “Anytime I see a policy created for a specific situation it creates problems. I want flexibility for the superintendent to make decisions that are fair.”
Fitzgerald said she thought the change would essentially create open enrollment for the whole district, and no longer place students by their enrollment area.
The subcommittee decided to take a portion of Portz’s proposal and put it at the end of the current Attendance Area policy to spell out some of the things that are in the “best interest” of the students and the school. The new portion said: “Exceptions can be made to support class size, special programming and other criteria established by the superintendent.”
The subcommittee voted 3-0 to recommend the new policy to the whole School Committee.