IRSD school-choice debates end with a capacity-limit change

With Delaware’s annual school-choice application period closing in a few weeks, the Indian River School District is trying to get their ducks in a row before the school district evaluates the 2020-2021 applications.

After months of debate in regular school board and committee meetings, the school district has made procedural changes behind the scenes. But the board of education ultimately made one simple change to the existing policy: increasing the capacity level where they cut off additional applications.

“The district may disapprove an application because of a lack of capacity in a particular program or school [meaning] that the school or program calculates projected enrollment for the following academic year to be at least 95 percent of its building capacity,” the new policy states.

That’s an increase from the 85 percent capacity mark.

This still isn’t a hard-and-fast number. The school board “may” disapprove an application, but they have flexibility to approve certain cases if need be.

IRSD policy defines “capacity” as “the maximum number of students that a program or school can contain as determined solely by considerations of physical space, physical resources and class size for each grade level.”

This month, seven schools have either met or nearly met the 95 percent mark: Sussex Central High School (122.2 percent), Selbyville Middle School (107.7 percent), East Millsboro Elementary School (103.5 percent), North Georgetown Elementary School (101.8 percent), Georgetown Elementary School (97.8 percent), Millsboro Middle School (94.5 percent) and Indian River High School (94.4 percent).

The rules were created with the thought of families planning ahead for the next school year. But the IRSD also approves requests each month, often for students who have moved outside their attendance area but wish to continue attending their previous school.

For a long time, the school board OK’d just about every recommendation from the individual principals, for approval or rejection. But faced with overcrowding in some schools, the board has increased scrutiny of applications, through debate and with an administration-level School Choice Committee.

That doesn’t solve the IRSD’s problems, but it could help them draw a more realistic line for easier approvals.

Priority is still given to students in this order:

(1) Returning students

(2) Students who seek to attend based upon their parent’s residence within the designated feeder pattern

(3) In-district siblings of in-district students already enrolled in the program or school

(4) Out-of-district siblings of out-of-district students who are already enrolled in the program or school

(5) District students

(6) Children of school employees

(7) Non-district students.

(This is just the starting place. Each category contains additional and specific requirements.)

“We felt, based on the recommendation from our superintendent, that we should automatically do [student priority] numbers 1 to 4, no matter what the percentage was,” said Board Member Jim Hudson. “And then when you go to [priority] 5, that’s when the 95 percent kicks in.”

Priorities 1 to 4 would keep the students and families at the schools where they already have ties. Then the district would only consider additional choice students (priorities 5, 6 and 7) if the school is projected to remain under 95 percent.

The priority list is partly written by the State (1 to 4) and partly by the district (5 to 7).

The district shall accept applications in this manner “until there is a lack of capacity.” Anyone rejected due a lack of capacity shall be placed on a waiting list until the first day of the school year for which they applied.

Officially, the school board unanimously approved the first and second readings of Policy JECCA–School Choice, which can be found online at www.irsd.net/parents___students/policy_manual and in the physical IRSD school calendar (page 37).

Anyone with questions about school choice can call the individual school, call the IRSD Central Office at (302) 436-1000, or look online at https://www.irsd.net/parents___students/school_choice.

The 2020-2021 school choice application session opened in November and closes in a few weeks, on Jan. 8, 2020. The district will decide on grades 1 to 12 applications by late February and on kindergarten applications in May. School-choice applications must be submitted at www.schoolchoicede.org, but families without computer access can apply in-person at any IRSD school.

 

By Laura Walter
Staff Reporter