Buist Academy cafeteria

Food Service manager Nikki Gee hands out pumpkin-infused alfredo tortellini to kindergartners at Buist Academy on Feb. 14, 2014. Buist is one of the public magnet schools whose admissions process could be affected by a school board vote on Jan. 28. File/Staff

The Charleston County School District's magnet and charter school application process has been delayed for at least a few weeks as the school board considers last-minute policy changes that could affect which children get accepted.

The window for families to apply to choice schools usually begins in early January, but the district announced Wednesday it is waiting on possible policy changes the school board might make Jan. 28. An opening date for applications has not been announced.

Among other ideas, board members could decide to create a second campus for schools with "entrance criteria and long waiting lists of qualified applicants."

Most charter and magnet schools accept students through a random lottery process rather than using tests or auditions. That would mean the policy change could apply only to students seeking admission to Buist Academy, School of the Arts and Academic Magnet, all of which have famously long waiting lists and routinely turn away applicants with excellent academic records.

Buist, a school for kindergarten through eighth grade, had a lower acceptance rate than Harvard University last year.

Another proposal would "ensure all eligible students receive transportation as needed." The district currently provides bus service to all of its magnet schools but not to charter schools.

Other proposals listed on the district website include:

  • Using outside adjudicators for schools with entrance qualifications.
  • Changing the admissions process at schools like Academic Magnet so that the minimum acceptance score is "not greater than the 65th percentile."
  • Eliminating partial magnet programs that have low enrollment and applications.
  • Making paper copies of applications available for families who lack internet access.

Consultants from Clemson University's Office of Inclusion and Equity first recommended making changes to the school choice process in August, after they finished a six-month-long, $135,000 diversity study.

The school board approved a draft document of school choice policy changes on Sept. 24, 2018, at which point district staff recommended implementing the changes within 90 days. 

That 90-day window ended Dec. 23. The board has met since then but had not approved any of the changes in time for the usual opening of the school choice application window this month.

The board is expected to vote on them when it meets Jan. 28 at 4 p.m. at Burke High School (244 President St., Charleston). The agenda for that meeting has not yet been published.

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Reach Paul Bowers at 843-937-5546. Follow him on Twitter @paul_bowers.