Sibling admission policies, along with bus transportation and racial demographics, all loom large as the Charleston County School Board ponders its system of public magnet and charter schools.
A draft document approved by the school board Sept. 24 provides a first glimpse at changes the board could make in response to a diversity study conducted by Clemson University’s Office of Inclusion and Equity.
The district paid $135,000 for the study, which was presented in August and focused on persistent achievement gaps between white and minority students, and between the children of rich and poor families.
District staff proposed the following actions within 90 days. Some will be vetted by a working group of parents and educators. Any policy changes must be approved by the School Board. The actions include:
- Reviewing magnet schools' sibling admission policies, which in some cases give preference to students who have a brother or sister already enrolled at a school.
- Ensuring that all middle schools offer Algebra I beginning in the 2019-20 school year, either online or in class. Algebra I is a prerequisite at Academic Magnet High.
- Shortening the online magnet application process, and offering paper applications again for families with limited internet access.
- Examining the need for and impact of partial magnet schools, which have a defined attendance zone but also offer some seats to students living outside that zone based on a lottery.
- Reviewing state regulations regarding racial demographics at charter schools, which forbid such schools from varying from the racial composition of their service area by more than 20 percent.
"I think it’s going to be pretty far-reaching," School Board Chairwoman Kate Darby said Monday. "In the end, I hope the recommendations we make are going to be positive for the district and are going to provide opportunities for all of our kids."
District staffers are expected to propose any policy changes to the board by Dec. 10.
Last school year, more than one-third of Charleston County public school students attended a charter, magnet, partial magnet or Montessori school — a range of non-traditional options broadly referred to as "choice" schools.
The draft document reviewing these schools is based on one of the Clemson group's main recommendations: "Reform the system to ensure access to quality schools."
So far, most recommendations have involved school choice, despite persistent patterns of segregation and inequality among traditional neighborhood schools.
The school district has pondered changes to its magnet admissions policies before, usually with an eye toward increasing diversity at sought-after such as Academic Magnet High, School of the Arts and Buist Academy.
In 2015, Academic Magnet students began calling for more diversity at their mostly white school, and the district created a community input committee at the school. The district made a modest change in 2016, when it offered Academic Magnet admission to the top two graduates at each middle school.
This summer, the school received a $100,000 Jack Kent Cooke Foundation grant to improve its outreach to students from low-income families.
In the Clemson team's presentation to the school board Aug. 27, researcher Greg Ladewsky called on the board to reform its magnet school system, not do away with it.
"Stop arguing whether it (school choice) creates inequity. Every member of our team thinks it does,” he said. “That doesn’t mean it should be scrapped, but it should be reformed to make it available to all students.”
The school district of roughly 50,000 students is the second-largest in the state and has long been at the vanguard when it comes to school choice.
Since opening Academic Magnet High School on the campus of Burke High in 1988, the district has opened and converted a series of magnet, partial magnet and charter schools. Today, it includes 24 schools with magnet, partial magnet or Montessori status; and 10 charter schools.