District to crack down on open enrollment

Abuse of the South Kitsap School District’s open enrollment policy, which allows students to attend a school outside the residential boundaries designated by the district, has prompted district administration to adopt a more skeptical outlook when it comes to taking parents at their word.

Now, in order to verify a student’s home address, some schools are requiring parents to provide a piece of official mail delivered to a home address upon registering their child for school.

“The open-enrollment policy been in place for a long time,” said Kurt Wagner, assistant superintendent of instructional services.

Wagner explained that South Kitsap’s open-enrollment policy provides an opportunity for parents to move their children to a different school, providing they can provide adequate transportation for the child and the school’s capacity can handle the additional enrollment. The decision as to whether a school can take more students is left to the principal of the school. A student’s past behavioral problems might also keep the student from being accepted at another school.

According to Wagner, once a student is accepted to a new school through open enrollment, that school becomes the student’s “neighborhood school” and the child must again be OKed through open enrollment to return to the original school.

Frank Sullivan, director of school administration and student services, said problems arise when parents lie about their address to avoid the open enrollment process — or to counter the decision their child cannot become openly enrolled in a different school.

According to Sullivan, the most popular schools for open enrollment are Mullenix Ridge Elementary and South Colby Elementary. Sullivan explains their popularity by pointing out high test scores and the many daycares located near both schools.

“It used to be, over the past 10 years, we used to accommodate daycare,” Sullivan said. “Now, with so many daycares, you get growth. What we try not to do is take the resident address as the daycare. But when you have private daycare, it’s a different situation.”

Sullivan said many open-enrollment decisions are based on capacity and teacher-student ratios. He denies space is saved for children who might live within the school’s boundaries at a later date.

“No, we usually don’t do that,” Sullivan said. “We just take less open enrollment (the next year). It’s really a balance.”

Sullivan said student-teacher ratios must be kept 24-1 or contract complications arise: teachers must be paid more or split-level classes must be created.

Some parents were upset to learn that in order to register their child for school, they needed to provide a piece of official mail at the registration to verify their current address.

Sullivan said he originally considered requiring a driver’s license or voters registration card to confirm addresses, but, he said, some license information is not current and some people do not vote.

However, he assures the community that the mail is not taken, copied or given consideration by the district. He said it is just to verify a student’s address, to verify whether a student lives in the district or trying to go around the open-enrollment requirements.

“I do know that our neighboring school districts are having some of the same problems: how do you go about putting in place something that doesn’t violate individual rights but protects a school’s sense of community?,” Sullivan said. “How do you get to a neutral balance?”

“What we try to do is hope everyone is going to be honest,” Sullivan said. “People just don’t like to hear ‘no.’ ”

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