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Pinellas County families can breathe a little easier when it comes to getting their children into schools closer to home. We try to provide a little help.

Pinellas families have been a resilient lot.

In just the past six years, their public school system has used a succession of three very different student assignment systems, the result of a long and difficult transition away from the desegregation era.

With each change, families have been asked to accept a new set of rules, study up on details and adjust.

The latest plan, approved in December after two years of work, is likely the last big change for a long time. It returns Pinellas to a system where race no longer factors into the enrollment process but where racial diversity is still possible in some schools, especially those designed to attract families from across the county.

Families will be able to attend a "close to home" school or explore special programs including magnets, fundamental schools and high school career academies. They also can try a charter school or shop for an open seat at another regular school anywhere in the county.

In this, the 12th edition of School Search, our primary aim is to get families up to speed as the application period for special programs approaches. But we also try to give people a sense of what to expect this spring when the district begins to roll out other elements of the new system, assigning the first students to their close-to-home schools.

Goodbye, choice plan

People will notice big differences from the now-departed choice plan.

Choice relied on an annual lottery that made it difficult to predict a child's path through the school system. It discouraged families from shopping around once they landed in a school. It even booted children out of schools if their parents so much as applied for a seat somewhere else.

Under the new plan, parents deal from much safer ground. A relaxed transition allows kids to stay in their current schools instead of being uprooted and placed in their new close-to-home school.

When the transition is complete, in about four years, Pinellas families will know they have a secure seat at a close-to-home school. And they can search for other options without fear of losing that seat.

Doing your homework

As always, School Search is meant to be a starting point as you seek the best learning place for your child or young adult. We'll brief you on the rules, give you a sense of the schools, show you a smattering of performance data and tell you when to show up at a discovery night.

But there is no good substitute for a stroll through the halls of your child's would-be school, a chat with the principal, or a keen search for data that would yield clues about a school's culture.

We'll point you to places where you can find more information.

We wish you and your students well on the journey. School searching is a difficult task.

We hope we've made it easier.

Thomas C. Tobin can be reached at or (727) 893-8923.