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District to discuss policy for siblings

Published Apr. 6, 2002
Updated Sep. 3, 2005

Dianna Runyons' daughter wants to be a doctor, so she applied for a coveted seat in the medical magnet program at Palm Harbor University High School.

Runyons' daughter ended up on a waiting list. But another student she knew got in right away, courtesy of a policy that gives priority to siblings of current students.

That policy, Runyons said, discriminates against students such as her daughter who don't have siblings.

"My daughter wants to be a doctor," Runyons recently told the School Board. "The girl that got in wants to marry one."

The School Board agreed to discuss the sibling priority policy for magnet and fundamental schools. Their next workshop is April 23.

The mere mention of making changes has sparked an uproar.

Nearly 200 parents from Perkins Elementary School, a St. Petersburg magnet for the arts, sent letters and petitions to the School Board. They said students perform better and families are more active volunteers when siblings are in school together.

Among the letter writers was Corey D'Angelo, who heard about the policy from his mom. Corey, 7, is a first-grader at Perkins. He really likes art, and he wants his 3-year-old brother, Bryce, to attend Perkins when he's old enough.

"I really want my brother to come to this pretty school," Corey neatly printed. "Please do not change this rule. I love this school just how it is."

Pinellas County has 23 countywide magnet and fundamental programs. In 1994, at parents' request, the board created the sibling priority for magnets and fundamentals at the elementary and middle school level. In 1998, board members extended the policy to the high school level.

Each year, hundreds of seats go to siblings. About as often, the board debates the policy.

"I am not willing to sacrifice my child's ability to attend a magnet because of the convenience of a family of four," Runyons told board members.

Since that meeting, Runyons' daughter has gotten into the Palm Harbor medical magnet, said Chris Lowry, the district's director of magnet and fundamental programs.

For their part, board members seem inclined to keep some sort of sibling priority policy. They said, as they developed the upcoming choice plan, that family stability is important.

"There is a logical argument if you have one child that you should not be penalized," said board chairman Lee Benjamin. "But I think overall the idea that families can be at the same school has worked pretty well for us."

But some board members wonder whether family togetherness is as critical in high school as in younger grades. They will discuss whether they should write a policy giving a younger sibling priority to attend the same school but not necessarily the magnet program.

Brenda Dutenhaver hopes the board will keep the current policy.

Her daughter Greysen, who is 2{, regularly visits her sister Ashton's kindergarten classroom. She knows the teacher, the morning routine, where students hang their backpacks.

"She's almost like their little mascot," said Dutenhaver, who helped organize Perkins' petition drive. "She just goes in and does right what her sister does. It's very family-oriented."