The Hernando School Board shouldn't be too hasty to send away out-of-county students attending Nature Coast Technical High School.
Among the magnet school's 1,453 students are 19 teenagers from Pasco or Citrus counties and that has caught the attention of district administrators and the Hernando County School Board. Because of limited space, district policy confines enrollment at the school exclusively to Hernando residents. Board members are concerned because the school's waiting list — 253 students at last count — means out-of-county residents filled slots earmarked for Hernando students.
District School Services director Sonya Jackson is recommending the board enforce its policy and require the 14 students not scheduled to graduate next month to attend school elsewhere beginning in August.
The board, however, shouldn't act arbitrarily and would be wise to consider the individual circumstances of the students before responding. Some were allowed to enroll because of human error at the school. In an interview with Times staff writer Tony Marrero, principal Tizzy Schoelles accepted blame for not realizing some of the addresses provided by students' families were in a ZIP code south of the Hernando County border. In other instances, some students listed Hernando County residences at the time they applied to the school, but now live in Pasco. Schoelles said she doesn't believe students or their families attempted to deceive the district.
The board shouldn't punish students, three of whom will be entering their senior year in the fall, because of an oversight by school-based administrators. Likewise, the half-dozen juniors-to-be also should be allowed to complete their education at Nature Coast. Asking them to switch schools halfway through their high school education is simply unfair.
Students crossing county lines to attend public schools is nothing new. The Hernando and Pasco school districts have an interlocal agreement allowing families to cross County Line Road to attend school if space is available. Under these circumstances, Hernando has become a net exporter of school-age children. Data from 2007 showed 171 Hernando children attended school in Pasco County compared with just 13 from Pasco traveling north to Hernando.
The sticking point at Nature Coast, however, is its popular technical education offerings that attract students countywide. Demand exceeds space and board members are rightfully weary of cutting off opportunities intended for their own constituents. Under the circumstances, it was appropriate for the district to assume responsibility from the school to confirm students' legal residences to avoid repeating the errors.
However, the future of 14 students remains in limbo even though some already received letters telling them they will not be allowed to attend Nature Coast next school year. In considering variance requests for the students, the board should consider that, by the accounts provided so far, the students are in these situations through no fault of their own.
The board also should weigh the school's own mission statement to "equip students with skills in technology, problem solving, critical thinking and social interactions by developing an atmosphere of trust, high expectations and consistent support.''
How exactly is that accomplished by pushing 14 kids out the door?