Monday, August 10, 2009

More Notes on Schools of Choice

Last week, I posted some information about schools of choice. I got the following comment, which I have to admit, I didn't understand at the time.

"If a student is trying to transfer into a school outside of the school of choice system (i.e. from Ypsi to Saline), that student would need a release to avoid paying tuition in Saline. Ypsi doesn't give such releases anymore."

I set out to find out some more--and one thing which you might already know is that school regulations can be a MAZE! Even highly-literate adults can find them confusing. And let me also say that I am thankful that James Hawkins and Scot Graden (Ypsilanti and Saline superintendents, respectively) answered my questions and clarified this information.

A Michigan school district has three options:
1. Don't admit any school of choice students
2. Become a limited school of choice district
3. Become a completely open school of choice district.

Districts can make their decisions year-to-year, based on enrollment projections and other reasoning. Ypsilanti and Willow Run, for example, are completely open schools of choice districts. Saline is a limited school of choice district. Schools of choice can be limited by grade or by school, and generally there is an opt-in period. In the case of Saline, for instance, there were 10 kindergarten openings this year, and selection was by lottery.

IF you apply to, and get into a school of choice, then the school district you leave has no say in the matter--there is no "releasing" of students (although, of course there is a request to transfer records).

However, in a limited school of choice district the options are a little more confusing.

Writes Mr. Graden, "As an example, if a student in 9th grade wanted to attend Saline - School of Choice policies do not apply as we have not declared any openings. This is where a release would be needed. I will also say that getting a release does not mean they will be accepted - in Saline this situation is reviewed on a case by case basis. Based on explanations I have gotten from the State, releases are intended to be used for special cases where a specific program in a district would be the best placement for a student and in some relocation cases (to stay and complete a senior year, etc.)." (emphases mine).

Mr. Hawkins explains Ypsilanti's policy,
"We will release any family to a School of Choice district when a request is made. We will not release Ypsilanti families (those residing in Ypsilanti which is their home district) to attend a school district outside of their home district unless there are compelling circumstances. We have had several requests from families to release their child/children to Saline in those grade levels that are exempt or non school of choice and we have rejected the parents requests." (emphases mine)

So--Lolita (my commentator) was correct, insofar as what happens if the student is not applying through the school of choice avenue. So I asked Mr. Graden and Mr. Hawkins,
Is it correct to say that, "If a family applies for a grade that is not part of school of choice (or if they didn't get in through the lottery), then in order for the student to transfer into Saline they a) need to be accepted by Saline based on special exceptions--for instance, relocation or special needs and b) the other district needs to agree to it? And if that is correct, why is it that the other district has a say in it--" (emphases mine)

Mr. Graden answered,
"In your second example it is important to understand that in Michigan the "home" or "resident" district is designed to serve all the families residing within the district. That is the policy/law set from the state - and is why they have a say it the matter. Many districts have policies that prevent them from releasing students except is very specific cases. Yes, we there is the tuition option and we have a handful of families that have gone this route over the years. They would still apply and would be enrolled on a case by case basis." (emphases mine)

[Some other time I will hope to write about the idea that the school district is the "home." But not today.]

So, there you have the answer. Lolita (my commenter) was correct. Michigan education law is very confusing. You don't need a release if you are going to a school of choice, or a charter school, or a private school--but you need one if you want a special exception to attend a non-school of choice school. Lolita explained in her comments, "If Ypsilanti does not execute a release for a student to attend Saline, the student won't bring their per pupil monies with them, and Saline will charge the equivalent of what it gets from the State for each pupil."

This whole situation strikes me as pretty anachronistic, and paternalistic. Obviously the district that decides not to release a student is doing it because they want to hold onto those tuition dollars. But they could lose them anyway, with the student going to a charter school, or private school, or paying tuition to the public school--AND in the process they build up ill will. Who are you, school district, to tell me that my child can't switch schools and I don't have options? It seems very short-sighted to me. It would make me very cranky. And even if I don't leave the school district, if I tell 100 people that the school district wouldn't "release" my child, that can only reflect badly on the school district. Bad news spreads quickly.

Bottom line: parents want choice. Sometimes there is good reason for that; sometimes not, but it's up to me as a parent to decide the best placement for my child. And if the school I want my child to go to accepts him or her, then who is the other district to tell me that is wrong?


  1. Thank you for your research on this matter!

  2. Where do I find a listing of schools of choice in Washtenaw county?

  3. Anon--Look for a post on this in a couple of days. I think a lot of people want to know. Ruth