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    Magnet schools sibling policy to remain intact

    Applicants with siblings in Pinellas high school magnets will be admitted ahead of other applicants.

    By KELLY RYAN GILMER, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published June 12, 2002

    LARGO -- Pinellas County School Board members have decided not to change the district's sibling policy for high school magnet programs after all.

    For years, siblings of students in magnet programs have been guaranteed admission ahead of other applicants.

    At the request of a parent who said the policy discriminated against her only child, board members had considered ending that practice for high school magnets. The change would not have applied to elementary or middle school magnets or fundamental schools.

    But at a retreat Tuesday, board members said they never had enough data to support making the change. Plus, they didn't want to further confuse parents already overwhelmed by a new school choice plan that begins in 2003-2004.

    So, the oft-discussed sibling policy will stay as is.

    "The fewer controversies we create at this point would be to the advantage of the school system," said Lee Benjamin, board chairman.

    In earlier discussions, board members had agreed it was important that siblings be allowed to attend school together. But they didn't think a sibling should necessarily be guaranteed a seat in a high school's magnet program -- even if the sibling qualified.

    Under the now-scrapped proposal, a sibling would have had to apply and qualify for a magnet just like any other applicant. If the sibling didn't get in through the lottery, he would have had a guaranteed place in the traditional part of the school.

    Board members were going to vote on the proposal this summer.

    Then board members got more feedback from parents who said the change wouldn't be fair, either. What if a sibling doesn't qualify for a magnet program, but still would like to go to school with his older brother?

    Board member Nancy Bostock said she thinks the board tried to fix the wrong problem. One of the real issues, she said, is that there aren't enough spaces in magnet programs for all the students who want to attend.

    Even though the policy will stay the same, board member Jane Gallucci is worried it still is not fair.

    "It's a seat some other student could have," Gallucci said. "A student gets in by mere matter of birth."

    Board member Tom Todd predicted that Gallucci will have ample opportunity to raise her concerns again.

    "I guarantee you," he said, "it'll be back."

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