Thursday, September 22, 2016

Voluntary transfers and fairness

The board has a choice between two approaches to voluntary transfers. One possibility is to write specific rules that make it clear who is entitled to an exception to our usual transfer rules. The other is to allow the administration to decide on a case-by-case basis whether a student’s circumstances rise to the level of a “hardship” that merits special treatment.

One reason I’m in favor of the first approach is that I doubt it’s possible to have a case-by-case approach without generating fairness issues. I don’t want to get into the position where, on the one hand, we’re telling a student from the Alexander neighborhood (in southern Iowa City) that it’s not a hardship to attend Northwest Junior High in Coralville, but we’re simultaneously giving a transfer to a student from another area who really wants to attend Liberty because it’s closer, or because all of his friends go there, or because he’s got his heart set on being on one of the sports teams.

Fairness problems like that seem inevitable under a discretionary case-by-case system. Parents who want transfers for their kids will have an incentive to generate “hardship” arguments, and no matter what the district has done with other kids, there will always be a way to say that this next student’s circumstances are somehow different—and what will really end up making the difference is which kids have the parents who are better able to advocate.

If we think there are other categories that merit special treatment—even if it’s “the team needs me!”—let’s write them down so the process is transparent, consistent, and fair.

That’s why I keep working at trying to write specific rules, even if it gets a little complicated. I’ve now boiled that effort down to the following, which I’ll offer at our next board meeting. It’s an attempt to list some rules that I think we might be able to get consensus on, though we could always add or subtract as we discuss it. (For the explanations behind some of these rules, see this post.) Let me know what you think in the comments.


The board should direct the administration to incorporate the following rules into our voluntary transfer policy:

Students may apply for voluntary transfer into an ICCSD school other than their assigned school.

Capacity rules. As the secondary students, the district will approve the transfer only if it appears likely that there will be capacity available at the receiving school for as long as the student is entitled to remain there. As to elementary students, the district will approve the transfer only if it appears likely that there will be capacity available at the student’s particular grade level for as long as the student is entitled to remain there.

If there are more transfer applications than there are spots available, the district will award transfers by lottery, except it will give first priority to students who finished their previous year at the receiving school, and second priority to students who will have a sibling attending the receiving school in the year of the transfer.

Transportation. The district will not provide transportation to students on voluntary transfers, except as law or other district policy requires.

Newly opening schools. Except as provided in any of the sections below, students who are redistricted into a newly opening school may not voluntarily transfer out of that school during its first year.

Capstone rules. Juniors and seniors will be entitled to voluntary transfer, not subject to the capacity rules, into any high school at which they completed their previous year. This rule will apply to sophomore as well, unless they have been redistricted into a newly opening high school.

Eighth graders will be entitled to voluntary transfer, not subject to the capacity rules, into any junior high where they finished their seventh grade year.

Sixth graders will be entitled to voluntary transfer, not subject to the capacity rules, into any elementary school where they finished their fifth grade year.

North Lincoln. Students from the “North Lincoln” area who voluntarily transferred into South East Junior High no later than the 2016-17 school year will be entitled to voluntary transfers, not subject to the capacity rules, enabling them to remain on the SEJH-City path through high school graduation.

North Lincoln students who are sophomores in 2017-18 will not be subject to the newly opening schools rule.

Van Allen. Students from the small portion of Van Allen that will become part of Wickham in 2019-20 will be entitled to voluntary transfers, not subject to the capacity rules, enabling them to be on the NCJH/Liberty path through high school graduation, as long as they complete their sixth grade year at Van Allen no later than the 2019-20 school year.

Eighth and ninth graders formerly in City High zone. Students who are in eighth or ninth grade in 2017-18 will be entitled to transfer voluntarily onto the SEJH/City path, not subject to capacity rules.

Multiple rezonings. An elementary school student will be entitled to voluntary transfer, not subject to the capacity rules, to remain at the school he or she was assigned to in the previous year if that student has already changed elementary schools at least once because of a change in school zone boundaries. Such a student will be entitled to renew that transfer through sixth grade, not subject to the capacity rules.

Siblings. A student will be entitled to transfer onto a secondary path, not subject to the capacity rules, if he or she has an older sibling who will be on that secondary path during the year of the transfer and if he or she is no more than three years behind that older sibling. This rule is limited to students who start seventh grade no later than 2017-18.

Hardship. Students will be entitled to voluntary transfer, not subject to the capacity rules, if the district determines that a transfer is necessary for health, safety, or security reasons. The district will apply the same standard to these requests as it does to requests for open enrollment out of the district for cause.


Anonymous said...

Simple version: Revert to old secondary policy that basically allowed voluntary secondary transfers as long as there was capacity (defined as some % above "rated" capacity) at the secondary school.

If that's not going to work, suggested addition, maybe with the caveat that it be revisited a couple years after Liberty opens, since there are so many unknowns there (for instance, I know of a large number of incoming seniors who are considering attending even though they don't have to, due to proximity).

If a secondary student lives less than 3 (or 2, or even 1, if that's more manageable) miles of a Jr High or High School, they may voluntarily transfer to that secondary feeder system (without transportation, obviously) for the duration of their secondary years. This takes care of the would be walkers/bike riders/etc. and doesn't require parceling off sections of students from one elementary to another. It also addresses safety concerns and just makes sense. I think you'll find that most of these kids would choose the closer school, but not all (as their best friends/sport team/classes desired/etc. may be at their assigned school). It would likely work out OK from a capacity standpoint. I'm not sure that it helps balance, but it's not really fair to take kids from the edges of attendance areas to schools that make no sense in the name of balance either, at the secondary level. Do that for balance at the elementary level, instead, where the difference distance is measured in 10 minutes or less in most cases, much less in many cases. Both low and high income parents in the district have expressed this concern.

Budget question/suggestion: Do you pay Durham for every student that is bus-eligible, or is there some sort of assumed non-ridership percentage? I again got bus letters for my two high school students who don't ride the bus, telling them about their supposed bus stop, which is is conveniently exactly 3.0 miles from our home. I believe it would be worth doing an audit of ridership of each bus for a week to evaluate what we are actually using vs. what we're paying for.

Anonymous said...

anon 12:41, I agree with you. I like the KISS rule. So if there is capacity, let them transfer. If the transfer is approved, let them stay and finish. Re-evaluate after a couple of years and see if this brings some huge negative impact. This is similar to that story, where the engineers let people walk on lawn and then later build path following the dead grass. With three high schools, it is unlikely that we are going to be short of space. Just let the parents go what they think is the best, which *will* be the best for their children. Hands off, board.

As far as busing cost, I think it is charged by route. So even if the bus is empty, the district pays the same.

Amy said...

Piping up again, this time to suggest including the word "economic" amongst hardship reasons. Essentially, if a change makes it difficult for the parent(s) to maintain employment while sending the child to school, or if a missed schoolbus is going to mean the child can't get to school, or that the child cannot participate in extracurriculars because the child will have no realistic way of getting home without the school bus, then let the child stay at the school where the parent can both support the child and see that the child gets to school and participates.

Chris said...

Amy -- I agree completely. Unfortunately, those are the very arguments some of us made for not reinstating the previous boundaries at all, and for assigning both Kirkwood and Alexander to their closest secondary schools. So I was reluctant to include that proposal on the list of things I think we could reach consensus on. Still, your proposal would affect kids from other areas as well, so is worth raising.

I think it would also make sense to give Kirkwood-area students a (possibly time-limited?) exemption from the newly opening schools rule, since they will be moving to Liberty with virtually none of their junior high classmates. But again, given the board's decision to move Kirkwood back into Liberty, and given that we're precluding all other West High 9th and 10th graders who live in the Liberty zone from transferring back into West, I don't have high hopes for that proposal.

Chris said...

Anonymouses -- As I understand it, we pay by the bus. But I do think there may be some "overbooking" to account for the fact that not everyone who is eligible for the bus ends up riding it every day, though I assume they have to err on the side of caution. Some of our buses would not be full even if everyone eligible decided to ride, because the route is so long that adding any more stops to it would make it exceed the legally allowable route time (one hour at the elementary level and seventy-five minutes at the secondary level).

I see the appeal of a simple rule, but the district has already created complications, such as requiring Liberty freshmen and sophomores to attend in Liberty's first year, allowing students to finish their capstone years, and not allowing transfers when they'd put a building over capacity, all of which seem like good ideas to me. And I do think North Lincoln and Van Allen present special situations that are worth recognizing. In the case of Van Allen, for example, we might literally be taking one or two kids out of a sixth grade class and sending them on a different secondary path from their classmates, unless we give them an exception to the capacity rules that could otherwise prevent them from going to Liberty.

Liz said...

Please consider allowing the peninsula area to transfer into Lincoln early. My son could potentially go to kindergarten at Mann, 1st grade at Hoover East and then 2nd grade at Lincoln. That is a lot of moving around. Are the boundaries definite or is there a possibility that things for North Lincoln and the peninsula will be changed around again if the bond doesn't pass or the new elementary is built on the new North Liberty land instead of next to Liberty High School? Thank you Chris for all of your information.

Amy said...

Chris - okay, and I get that. I'd like to hear from the board, though, about how it plans to handle such problems. We already have kids who don't regularly make it to school because of problems like this, and it seems to me the board is essentially planning to punish children and parents for being poor. I mean I don't see any other outcome for families that do not have a way to get the children to and from school reliably apart from the school bus. Given the outcome of the recent environment study, in which it was plain that low-SES students already feel a lack of respect and understanding in the district, I don't see how this helps.

Are the schools going to be responsible for arranging transportation for children whose parents cannot simply turn up in a car when called or when there's an after-school program? Arranging after-school activities closer to the children's neighborhoods? What's the proposed workaround? Because "poor kids and parents shoulder the burden of our wellmeaningness" can't be the answer, and neither can "We're going to pretend these families and the basic-needs-level problems we're making for them don't exist."

Anonymous said...

If the district is even slightly interested in preserving economic balance it needs to prohibit voluntary transfers. Rich Kiddo can easily drive to the school of his choice in parent-provided car and with parent-provided insurance. Poor Kiddo doesn't have this option.

And I could see Mr Murley authorizing a transfer for his pet well-off families but not for the less well-off.