Cape board members question choice policy

Are staff requests increasing attendance at Shields elementary?
Cape Henlopen school board members want to know how many students are choiced into Shields Elementary School in Lewes. SOURCE FILE
April 15, 2013

Some Cape Henlopen school board members say too many students may be choicing into Shields Elementary School in Lewes, inflating already high student enrollment at the school.

“My perception of Shields is it’s packed,” said board member Jen Burton.

Burton requested the special meeting held April 9 to address Cape’s school choice policy after voting no March 28 to accept school choice applications. The board took a public vote on the matter following an executive session in which about 20 specific choice requests were discussed, one school board member said.

Board member Sandi Minard joined Burton in voting against all the school choice applications, but the applications were accepted because the remaining school board members voted to approve them.

Public school choice, a law passed in 1996, allows parents to send their children to a school district other than their home district. The law outlines the application process and allows school districts to deny applications if no space is available.

Minard said she voted no because the board was asked to approve 20 applications for school choice when the applications were received well past the school choice deadline as set in district policy.

Under the policy, Cape accepts school choice applications until the second Wednesday in January, and then determines if there is enough space in the schools for which students applied.

Burton said the board needs to review district policy on school choice applications and reexamine the district’s past practice of allowing district employees to choice their children into certain schools based on where the employee works.

The district has always granted school choice requests for employees of the district, said Superintendent Robert Fulton.

“Personally, I didn’t think it was appropriate to pull school choice for employees who have always had it,” he said.

Based on Shields’ location near the high school and the consortium, board Vice President Spencer Brittingham said it would make sense Shields would have a high number of choiced students.

“If any school had the most choiced students from a staff standpoint, it would be Shields because of the proximity of staff and faculty in the area,” he said.

Board member Sara Wilkinson said three years ago the school board closed the district to school choice because district enrollment was high. She said she did not remember the board voting to reopen choice for the district.

This year, Fulton said, Cape has approved allowing 10 new students to choice into the district. Another 40 students were already attending Cape schools, but they requested a change of schools within the district he said.

Fulton had no breakdown of how many students are choiced into Shields Elementary compared to choice applications at other schools.

“We need to know what percentage of the 700 students at Shields are choiced,” said board member Roni Posner.

Board President Andy Lewis and Minard both requested a list of students and their addresses broken down by schools.

Using a spring snapshot of district enrollment, Cathy Pettigout, supervisor of human resources, said Shields Elementary enrollment estimates so far are 107 for first-grade, 140 for second-grade, 104 for third-grade, 120 for fourth-grade and 116 for fifth-grade, for a total of 587.

At Rehoboth Elementary: 111 for first-grade, 97 for second, 97 for third, 97 for fourth and 89 for fifth for a total of 491 students.

At Milton Elementary, 88 for first, 101 for second, 91 for third, 94 for fourth and 90 for fifth for a total of 464 students.

H.O. Brittingham has 109 for first, 103 for second, 84 for third, 88 for fourth and 85 for fifth, for a total of 469 students.

Pettigout reminded the board that these are rough estimates, and many students enroll at the last minute when school begins.

These numbers, however, do not show how many of the students are choiced into each school.

Board members agreed a detailed account is needed showing how many students are choiced into the district and into particular schools.

“We’re getting ready to make a huge decision on schools, and I need to know where these kids are coming from,” Minard said.


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