Just 16 weeks ago, Pinellas County's new student assignment plan was little more than an idea.
The School Board approved a new system in December that eventually will give every family a shot at a "close-to-home" school. But where would that school be? And how exactly would you enroll? Many questions went unanswered until district staffers could get a handle on enrollment patterns and find ways to put into action the concepts the board agreed on.
Tuesday marked a turning point as the district released color maps telling families where their "close-to-home" middle and high schools will be. A map showing the elementary school zones is due out later this week. Below are some questions and answers about the maps and the new plan.
When do the maps take effect?
Immediately. They will be used to determine where thousands of students go to school in the 2008-09 academic year, which begins Aug. 19.
Do the maps affect all students?
Not immediately. Initially, the maps will be used to assign about 24,000 students to their close-to-home schools — students who naturally will rise to a new school in August when they enter kindergarten, sixth grade or ninth grade. The maps do not affect students who have accepted invitations to attend special programs such as magnets, fundamental schools and career academies next year.
Many kids entering kindergarten, sixth and ninth grade want to be in the same school with a sibling. Can they do that if their sibling is not in their close-to-home school?
Yes. All students entering kindergarten, sixth and ninth grade next year will be automatically assigned to schools with older siblings. Families who would rather not keep siblings together can move the younger child to their close-to-home school by accessing a new Student Reservation System to be installed by April 21.
My children are in a school outside of our new close-to-home zone. Do we have to change schools now?
No. The new plan allows all students to be "grandfathered" into their current schools and continue to receive bus service.
My child is in a school that is not in our close-to-home zone, but I would like her to move to our close-to-home school next year. Can I do that?
Your close-to-home school may not have room for her. Families in your situation can attempt to move schools during a new "open enrollment" period scheduled for some time this summer.
We don't like any of our options so far. We couldn't get our child into a magnet school, and we don't like our close-to-home school. What do we do?
You can try to get into another school where there is room. Again, the new "open enrollment" period is for families who want to change their assignments. The district is thinking about scheduling it in June. Officials are still working out details of how it would work.
So, some schools won't have enough seats for all the students who live in their zones?
Initially, yes. Many schools will be filled with out-of-zone students who want to be grandfathered there. At some schools, the district may try to accommodate both the grandfathered and in-zone students by adding portable classrooms.
My child is entering kindergarten in August. How do I get him assigned to a school?
The district is still finalizing a procedure to allow families to enroll a child online. Starting April 21, parents of prospective kindergarteners will be able to visit any Pinellas public school to get a password allowing them to access the new Student Reservation System. Parents will be able to enroll their child from their home computer or a special computer at the school.
The maps are great but can't I get something official telling me where my kid will go to school next year?
The district plans to mail assignment letters April 18 to students who will enter sixth and ninth grade next year.
How were these maps drawn?
The goal was to create zones with just enough kids to fill the seats at each school. District officials say they considered many factors, including population density, major roads and natural boundaries.
Thomas C. Tobin can be reached at email@example.com or (727)893-8923.