Alamance-Burlington school board members voted unanimously, 7-0, during a special-called meeting Tuesday afternoon to approve a revised student assignment policy that limits the number of students who will be allowed to transfer from one ABSS school to another.
The board approved the revised student assignment policy in anticipation of opening the new high school, Southeast, in August 2023, though the changes will apply to all ABSS schools.
The school board’s attorney, Adam Mitchell of the Tharrington-Smith law firm in Raleigh, told school board members Tuesday afternoon that nothing in state law requires them to offer a special “transfer application” period, as ABSS has done each spring for years.
“We removed the entire transfer request process, where the parent comes and says, ‘I want to transfer to X school for next school year,’” Mitchell said Tuesday. “Because there’s no choice, there is the right to appeal assignment once you’ve received [notice], but that’s very different from someone coming to you and saying, ‘I want to move from here to here.’”
“The main change here is a significant change,” the attorney elaborated. “It’s perfectly legal – you never had a legal requirement [to accept applications for transfers each spring].”
Students and their families will be notified of school assignments for 2023-24 with the report cards that go out at the end of next month, ABSS officials announced Tuesday.
As part of the revised student assignment policy, ABSS also will no longer continue to offer a special “transfer application period” each spring, which had historically triggered hundreds of transfer appeals that school board members would hear each summer.
Once they receive their school assignments for 2023-24, students and/or their parents will have a 10-day window in which to file a request to be reassigned to a different school (what ABSS officials have previously termed a “transfer”), under the revised policy that the board approved Tuesday.
The ABSS director of school administration will review the request and notify the applicant, by registered mail, if the request for reassignment is denied, at which point there will be a five-day window in which to appeal the decision to the board. ABSS will provide limited exceptions to the revised policy: transfers will continue to be allowed for students of ABSS employees, a perk they receive as part of their benefits package; transfers also will be allowed for homeless students and/or those “deemed at risk” if they remain at their assigned schools.
ABSS has 177 transfer students at high schools this year
There are currently 177 transfer students (89 of whom are the children of ABSS employees) at the six traditional high schools, as well as the ABSS Early College housed on Alamance Community College’s Graham campus and the Alamance Virtual School, based on data the school system furnished for the newspaper Tuesday. (See accompanying chart for a breakdown of the number of transfer students at ABSS high schools.)
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However, the revised student assignment policy that the board approved Tuesday will apply to all ABSS schools, starting with the 2023-24 school year.
One of the key changes in the revised student assignment policy is a blanket prohibition on transfers into any schools that are over-capacity (i.e., those schools where enrollment exceeds the number of available seats). Requests to transfer to over-capacity schools will be automatically denied and would need to be appealed to the school board, ABSS officials said Tuesday.
School board member Patsy Simpson remarked, “That must be what the other districts are doing; I cannot believe we’ve been doing that for all these years.” She recalled attending numerous North Carolina School Boards Association conferences during her four terms on the board and how school board members from other parts of the state “would look at us like we were crazy when we would talk about a special transfer period.”
“This is near and dear – I’ve spent many years in this arena,” ABSS superintendent Dr. Dain Butler said Tuesday, referring to when he previously served as the director of school administration for ABSS and oversaw student assignment.
Butler: No more spring transfer window
“I can remember having 200 to 250 [transfer] appeals a year that would come before the board,” Butler recalled Tuesday, adding, “It seems like we’re leaning [toward having] no more transfer window [between April 1 and May 1 but] there are some situations where we do need to move a child.”
The current director of school administration for ABSS, Greg Holland, could still apply any one of the eight provisions outlined within the student assignment policy in evaluating any future requests for reassignment, Mitchell said. Some of the provisions are for: homeless students and students in foster care; students in an address confidentiality program; students with disabilities; and students in an alternative education program, among others.
“If an appeal comes in and it meets one of those criteria, staff can approve it,” the attorney told the board. “And if it doesn’t, then it will come to you. It’s an appeal process after the fact – you’ve given staff some authority, and you can make the final decision.”
Simpson asked how the process would work if a student who’s currently enrolled at Eastern High School is redistricted to the new high school (Southeast) and has a younger sibling whom the parents want to attend the same school.
“We’re going to be looking at it with a heavy hand,” Butler said. “But, for Southeast, are we saying none at all?”
“Don’t we want to leave space [at Southeast]?” Simpson asked, noting that its enrollment “is going to naturally grow” as new homes that are currently underway or planned in that zone are completed. “I don’t think you should be able to transfer to any of the high schools for the next year or two because of the redistricting,” she said. “We need to let things settle down so we can get a better picture in terms of the number of students…I’m just saying we need a chill period.”
“I think the [enrollment] numbers are going to be down at Southeast for the first year,” board member Dan Ingle said.
School board vice chairman Ryan Bowden said Tuesday, “Personally, I wouldn’t feel comfortable to do that,” referring to Simpson’s suggestion to suspend transfers into any of the high schools for the time being. “I want to be able to adhere to those situations [outlined in the transfer policy],” Bowden reasoned.
Mitchell interjected to explain the concept behind “transfer appeals,” as they have historically applied in ABSS schools.
“A transfer is where it’s this school year; I think I know where I’m going to be assigned next school year, and I don’t want that,” the attorney told the board Tuesday afternoon. “We tell you where you’re going – it’s on a slip of paper – and you have 10 days to file an appeal.
Staff looks at it, and if one of those things applies, some exigent circumstances, they approve it.” If staff denies the appeal, the next step would be to file a “reassignment appeal” with the school board, Mitchell said.
“If a court order comes in, saying we need to do something, we’re going to look at it, and if it’s it valid, we’re going to do it,” the attorney explained. He also confirmed for Butler that the superintendent has the authority to approve or deny any future transfer requests.
“Is this consistent with what other districts are doing?” asked school board member Dr. Charles Parker.
Attorney: No statutory requirement to have transfer application period
“It’s certainly not required by law [to have a transfer application period],” Mitchell said, adding later in the discussion that certain types of transfers, such as involving “shared housing affidavits,” trigger a labyrinthine documentation and verification process.
Bowden also pointed out Tuesday that he’s hearing from families who don’t know which redistricting plan the board adopted at its meeting on November 8.
School board chairman Sandy Ellington-Graves suggested that it might be helpful to send out a special notice, telling Butler and her fellow board members, “I would say there are people who still don’t realize their lines are changing.”
“I’m not sure how to educate the whole county,” Butler countered. “I think we can kill two birds with one stone when we put out report cards.”
Butler and other ABSS administrators said that students and their families will be notified of their assigned schools when report cards are sent at the end of January.
Rising seniors who are redistricted under the plan that takes effect for the 2023-24 school year will be given the option to remain at their current high schools, if they choose.
All other students will be required to attend their assigned schools, with limited exceptions, based on the changes to the student assignment policy that school board members voted unanimously, 7-0, to approve Tuesday afternoon.
A list of schools that have been identified as over-capacity will be posted on the school system’s website later this week, ABSS public information officer Les Atkins told The Alamance News Tuesday afternoon.