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Pinellas school board weighs attendance ideas

A new proposal would be based on students' proximity to schools, not on set geographic boundaries.


© St. Petersburg Times, published April 14, 2000

LARGO -- The Pinellas School Board is exploring some new wrinkles in its school choice plan, ideas it hopes will eliminate the thorny task of creating zones around schools to enable students to attend school close to home.

The new proposal, which they expect to have more information on by April 24, would be based not on set geographic boundaries but on simple proximity to a school, with an eye toward filling a percentage of a school's population.

The plan would provide slots to families living closest to the school and then work outward until a given percentage -- which has not yet been determined -- of the school population is filled.

That approach could be combined with other strategies such as "extended grandfathering," which allows students to continue to finish their school career attending the schools for which they are zoned now, even after new rules are in effect.

That would be good news to parents who argue that they bought homes assuming their child would attend a certain school.

Under the plan, the rest of the school would be filled with students from outside the area who chose to attend the school or were assigned to it.

The proposals, though still in the rough idea stage, got a chilly reception Thursday from the group representing African-American families in the desegregation lawsuit against the district.

"That sounds like a way to avoid their agreement," said Enrique Escarraz, attorney for the Legal Defense Fund. "The idea of choice is to get parents to start making choices and help raise the quality of all schools. The idea of "extended grandfathering' is a guarantee that they don't have now."

The board is searching for ways to ensure diversity in schools, while giving parents more flexibility in choosing their child's school. They hope to agree on a plan that will go hand in hand with an agreement with the Legal Defense Fund that will end the federal desegregation lawsuit that led to busing 29 years ago.

In other matters Thursday, the Board was receptive to several changes in the Code of Student Conduct and the dress code, including a rule to ensure that undergarments not be visible. But the board wants staff to keep working on the exact wording governing the wearing of sleeveless garments and thin straps for girls.

Board members also indicated they had no plans to change school starting times next year. After a lengthy discussion and comments from thousands of students, parents and teachers through the district, board members indicated there was no clear reason to change the system, which has high school students starting and ending school early.

Suspecting that there still might be a better way to handle school starting and ending times, board members asked staff members to provide more information on the subject.

Under the current system, high school students start school earliest, at about 7:20 a.m., followed by elementary school students at about 8:45 and middle school at about 9:40.

The survey results (there were 56,949 responses) were mixed, with 40 percent favoring no change. The district concluded that any decision -- change or no change -- would displease about 40 percent of the respondents.

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