In a move similar to requiring counseling before a divorce, some Charleston County School Board members want principals to have a chance to talk parents out of transferring their children to another school.
The board's Policy and Personnel Committee has proposed requiring parents to meet with the principal of their neighborhood school before they can request a transfer to a school outside their zone. The change would not apply to applications for magnet schools.
School board members Tom Ducker and Craig Ascue voted in favor of the change during a committee meeting last week. Board member Tripp Wiles, who is also a member of the committee, was absent.
According to Ducker, the purpose of the meeting is twofold: give principals the opportunity to sell parents on the good points of their schools as well as dispel any rumors or falsehoods they may have heard.
"Some parents have decided to transfer their children based on hearsay, based on that their neighbor told them they shouldn't send their child to this school or that school," Ducker said. "There have been some cases where they've changed their minds once they've been to the school."
The proposal to require a visit to the school ahead of a transfer request is something the board has discussed in the past but hasn't agreed on due to concerns that it would put a burden on principals. Ascue sees it as giving the principals an opportunity to tell parents about the assets of a school and the benefits of staying.
"We want to give the principal of a school the opportunity to meet with parents to sell the school," he said.
The change isn't just for parents whose children have never attended a school. It will also apply to parents whose children are attending a neighborhood school but have decided they want a change.
"Even if parents already have children there, we wanted to give the principal the opportunity to talk to parents before they request a transfer and find out why is it they want to transfer their children," Ducker said.
Ducker and Ascue also see the proposed requirement as another way to help failing schools where enrollment is declining.
"We appear to be evacuating our neighborhood schools and we want to give those neighborhood schools an opportunity to keep some of those children," Ducker said.
Wiles is the lone committee member who disagrees with the proposal, which he sees as a potential barrier to school choice.
"If we have a child in a failing school and the parents want the child to leave the failing school, the last thing we need to do is put up hurdles to take the child out of the school," Wiles said. "If a school has a long history of failure and it does not appear to be changing, I am more interested in helping a student than I am helping a failing school survive."
Schools like North Charleston High and St. James-Santee Elementary are among the schools Ascue said are seeing an exodus of children. North Charleston High is rated at-risk while St. James-Santee is rated below average.
According to capacity calculations for the 2014-2015 school year, St. James-Santee has capacity for 324 students but is only projected to have 236 students enrolled. North Charleston High has a capacity of 981 students but only has a projected enrollment of 510 students.
Ascue said the district isn't having similar problems in other areas of the county like Mount Pleasant where all the schools are rated excellent.
"I want that for all students and that only happens by everybody working together," he said.
The committee also voted in favor of funneling school transfer applications directly to the constituent school boards for schools that parents want to transfer to. Currently parents requesting a transfer outside of their district must also send the transfer request to the constituent board for their neighborhood school. Constituent boards vote to approve or deny a transfer request. Parents can appeal that decision to the school board.
The school board is scheduled to take up the measures on transfers at its July 28 meeting.
Reach Amanda Kerr at 937-5546 or at Twitter.com/PCAmandaKerr.
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