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School Board okays new choice policies

Members vote 5-2 to approve rules on transportation, school capacity and other issues.

By KELLY RYAN GILMER, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 23, 2002

Members vote 5-2 to approve rules on transportation, school capacity and other issues.

LARGO -- With the choice application process almost half over, the Pinellas School Board on Tuesday finally approved a set of policies that spell out how the new system will work.

Next fall, choice will replace a system of neighborhood zoning and cross-county busing for desegregation. The transition requires new rules for transportation, school capacities and a host of other issues.

Even as the rules were approved, it was clear they still can change as choice moves forward.

Seminole parent Jacqueline DeLorenzo pleaded with the board to change rules for extended grandfathering. Those rules say that parents can't move if they want their kids to skip choice and attend their zoned elementary, middle and high schools.

DeLorenzo wants her daughter to keep extended grandfathering to attend Seminole schools, but she and her husband want to move. Her mother has recently become disabled and can't climb the stairs in their two-story house.

Board members Linda Lerner, Jane Gallucci and Max Gessner agreed that the board should be willing to address parent concerns as they come up.

Superintendent Howard Hinesley, who announced Tuesday night that he will retire at the end of 2004, warned the district would have to negotiate that with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

Union officials said they want district employees guaranteed the right to enroll their children at schools where they work, even if the schools are overcrowded.

Board members said they would look at the issue.

The choice policies passed 5-2. Lerner and Gallucci voted no.

The board voted unanimously that students who are not placed in their first- or second-choice schools should be put on a waiting list for those schools. Vacancies can be filled from the list at the end of the first grading period and at the end of the first semester.

In a related issue, the School Board heard complaints from parents backing the Program for International Culture and Commerce at Clearwater High. Now students get into PICC by living in Clearwater's zone or seeking special attendance permits.

The onset of choice changes how students will get in.

PICC is not considered a countywide magnet program or career academy, so students couldn't apply during the magnet and fundamental school application process. Instead, students must apply to attend Clearwater High and then indicate their interest in PICC. Those students are not guaranteed entrance into PICC.

Parents are worried that students won't want to risk being shut out so won't apply, leading to the program's "slow death," according to parent Jeff Skeim.

Board members said they can't change PICC's application process this year but will try to accommodate all the students who want to participate in PICC. They plan to further study the issue, and how it applies to special programs at other high schools, for 2004-2005.

The choice application deadline is Dec. 13.

Current students can participate by mailinga declaration of intent letter to the school district. Those new to the district must fill out a choice application and return it to a Family Education and Information Center.

Choice plan Q&A

What did the School Board do Tuesday?

The board approved a set of policies that will guide the implementation of the school district's "controlled choice" plan that begins next fall.

Which rules changed?

The most significant change is how long waiting lists will be maintained. District officials had planned to keep the lists for 20 days. But board members want as many students as possible to get their first- or second-choice schools so decided the lists should be maintained longer. After the waiting lists expire, students would have to stay put through the school year and try for their top choices during the next application process.

Are magnet and fundamental schools affected by choice?

Students will continue to apply to these countywide schools with an application process that is separate from the choice application process. No new magnets or fundamentals can be opened during the first four years of choice. And during choice, for the first time, transportation will be provided to students attending fundamental schools.

What happens to special attendance permits?

Special attendance permits are available for students who want to attend an elementary or middle school outside their attendance area. There are no SAPs for high school students because the entire county is one large attendance area. The district also created a "family special attendance permit" for parents who want their kids to attend the same school outside their attendance area. SAP applications are processed after the choice application process and approval is not guaranteed.

What happens if I don't like the choice I get?

There is an appeals process, but that's only for families who don't believe the choice rules were followed. But if you didn't get any of your five choices, you can visit a Family Education and Information Center, where you can be assigned to another school with space. Otherwise, you can wait until next year's choice application process and try again.

I want my child to attend a magnet school, fundamental school or career academy, but I am not sure it will work out. Where does my child go to school if he wants to leave one of those programs without completing it?

That student must go through the choice application process to find a new school. That is significantly different than today's world, in which that student would be allowed to return to his zoned school.

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