Raleigh, N.C. — Wake County school board members said Tuesday they would mail out permission letters to families of about 32,000 students being considered for year-round school assignments.
The school district planned to convert 19 elementary schools and three middle schools from traditional schedules to year-round calendars in the coming year to accommodate an expected 8,000 new students. A judge threw out that plan last week, however, ruling in a parents' lawsuit that students can't be required to attend a year-round school without parental consent.
In the proposed permission letter, district administrators ask parents to volunteer their children for year-round schools. The letters are being sent to the families of students at all 52 year-round or modified-calendar schools in the county, including the 22 that are slated for conversion.
District officials said they hope to get responses by May 18 so the school board would know by the end of the month how many families opted for traditional schools. However, those who choose traditional schools wouldn't know until at least June 19 where their children would be assigned.
School starts July 9 for three of the four year-round tracks and July 30 for the fourth track.
WakeCares, the parent group that sued the district over the mandatory assignments, has asked school board members to delay the conversions until it knows how many people opt for year-round schools. In a letter dated May 6, the group also said that parents should know what traditional-calendar assignment they might get so they could make an informed decision.
"Unlike the majority of the students in the school system, these 30,500 students are being asked to give consent without having a base assignment," Robert Hunter, the attorney for WakeCares, wrote in the letter. "Not knowing what traditional school a child will be assigned to places an unfair burden on said child and family."
School board member Carole Parker said it would be impossible to tell people where the district might find room in traditional schools to assign new students.
"The problem is that all of our schools are near capacity or are overcrowded. If we had the seats, we wouldn't be doing this to begin with," Parker said. "There's no way we can come out of this pleasing everybody. What we need to do is make sure we're in compliance with the judge's order."
Members of WakeCares again spoke out against the conversion plan at the school board meeting Tuesday afternoon, saying the district isn't complying with the court order.
"One person said to me that it has gone from mandatory year-round to extortion year-round," parent Dawn Graff said.
"How can you ask parents to make an educated decision regarding their children's education when they do not have all options disclosed to them?" parent Kim Wallace asked.
"We as parents ask that you come up with a reasonable plan, not one that uses scare tactics or one that has the potential to scatter families all over Wake County," parent Mari Jane Shaffer said.
WakeCares also wants the school board to wait until the appeal of the judge's ruling is heard before converting the schools.
But parent Chris Decker spoke out in favor of the push to year-round schools, calling himself a member of the "silent majority" that is appalled by tumult caused by WakeCares.
"In a perfect world, we all have choices. But unfortunately, this isn't a perfect world, and we must adjust to changes in our lives," Decker said. "It amazes me that those of us who are so privileged are also so spoiled."