LARGO — Pinellas School Board members wrestled Tuesday with who should receive exemptions under a proposal that would rezone students in grades K-3 at 27 elementary schools.
Several board members called it unfair that because of grandfathering, open enrollment students — those allowed to attend a school outside their zone if space is available — could continue attending their out-of-zone schools next year, while children who live in a school's neighborhood might be forced to relocate.
"We're letting that open enrollment (student) stay when it's not even their zoned school," board member Linda Lerner told colleagues during a workshop Tuesday. "It doesn't seem fair to me."
Officials say the conflict over the district's open enrollment students boils down to district policy, which promised parents that those children would stay in their respective schools through the school's highest grade. The parents were advised that they wouldn't have to reapply each year.
Proposed policy changes would require open enrollment students to declare by Jan. 31 of each year their intent to stay in their school.
"I'd like to put people in their zones and be done with it," said board member Peggy O'Shea, adding that she prefers adding portables and teaching staff over constantly reshuffling students. "But it's a policy issue and therefore a commitment made to those parents."
Those parents "made the choice based on that information," board chairwoman Carol Cook said. "So we need to continue to honor them."
Lerner and board member Robin Wikle said they understand that overcrowding, class-size limitations and other factors create the need to rezone. However, Wikle said it's "frustrating" for parents who "followed the rules," returned to their zoned school but are now being told their child will be rezoned again. It's especially disheartening, she said, when a neighbor's open enrollment child doesn't have to change schools.
"If it's in policy and we said it, it's our fault and we messed up," Wikle said.
No final decisions were made Tuesday. Board members requested additional information, including school-by-school open enrollment figures and the number of students who have changed zones three times, before deciding on the new school boundaries and guidelines.
They will hold another rezoning workshop at 3 p.m. Nov. 28 to review that information, as well as the district's past open enrollment policies and multiple revisions. They will vote on the boundary changes Dec. 6.
In all, 27 of the district's 63 zoned elementary schools have been identified for change. If approved, the new lines will impact about 1,600 students now in grades K-3. District demographer Marshall Touchton said the current proposal would keep further disruption at bay for at least two years.
Keyonna Summers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4153.