Sister no shoo-in after allBy DONNA WINCHESTER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 8, 2002
It came as a surprise to Drucie Brecher to learn that even though her son, Aaron, attends Palm Harbor University High School, he really doesn't, at least for the purposes of school choice.
Brecher has dropped the 14-year-old off at the school, which is 1 1/2 miles from their home, every morning since August. She has picked him up every afternoon.
The ninth-grader is on Palm Harbor's varsity swim team. He is in the math honor society and is a member of Youth in Government.
Aaron is enrolled in the International Baccalaureate program at University High. And that is quite different, under the rules of choice, than being enrolled in the traditional school under the same roof, Brecher learned when she tried to secure a seat at the school for her incoming ninth-grade daughter under the district's sibling preference.
Aliya, 13, can be admitted to the IB program under the sibling preference, but the privilege does not extend to the school's traditional program. Aliya's grades qualify her for admission to the magnet program, but the family has decided it is not in her best interests to attempt the accelerated curriculum.
It was the second piece of bad news Brecher received from the district. Last summer, she found out that because Aliya currently attends private school, she is not eligible for extended grandfathering.
That confounded her.
"We are being excluded from extended grandfathering because we made the decision to send our children to private school for grades K-8," she wrote in an e-mail to the Neighborhood Times. "This was to enable our children to get a religious education and learn the Hebrew language, which is not taught in the public school system. But from the time our children entered kindergarten, we always had the intent to have them attend public high school."
The rules haven't changed since the choice plan was adopted. But that doesn't make them any easier for the family to abide. Brecher said in an interview Thursday that she and her husband are frustrated.
A case in point that infuriates Brecher involves a family that moved into her neighborhood two years ago from another state. Because the children were living in the home on June 6, 2001, the cutoff date for extended grandfathering, and have been attending public schools since then, they can stay on track to attend the elementary, middle and high schools for which they were zoned -- including Palm Harbor University High.
The sibling preference issue upsets Brecher even more. Again, she can point to a specific situation.
One of her daughter's classmates lives in the neighborhood part time with his stepfather. He will be able to claim sibling preference at Palm Harbor because his stepbrother of two years attends the school, while Aliya, who has lived full time in the neighborhood with her brother for 12 years, is not entitled to the same privilege.
The district's sibling policy for magnet students is especially baffling, Brecher said, because it allows children to occupy coveted seats in the programs even if it's only because their parents want them at a particular school while scores of other children are on waiting lists.
"There are some kids who want to be in those programs really badly," she said. "I consider it a waste of wonderful county resources."
It has occurred to Brecher that she could play the same game in reverse. If she takes her son out of the IB program before the choice application deadline on Friday, he would be eligible under the current zoned system to attend the traditional program at Palm Harbor. Her daughter would then be automatically eligible to attend in 2003 under the sibling preference. But she says that would be like sacrificing one child for another.
"It's so bizarre to me," Brecher said. "As much as I would like to think the members of the School Board would get together and listen to some other considerations, I think that what they tend to do is dig their heels in the ground and stand firm."
-- Do you have a story about negotiating the new school choice plan? Please let Donna Winchester know at 893-8826; fax 893-8675; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; or P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.
-- Editor's note: As an aid to understanding "controlled choice," Neighborhood Times has continued to profile families who are in the hunt for the right school as the Dec. 13 application deadline approaches.
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