Diversity, athletics mark talks on Wake school transfer

A school board committee will go to the full board for a discussion of taking "diversity" out of a policy that governs student transfer requests.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The Wake County school board Wednesday again bumped up against its goal of taking diversity out of student assignment considerations as it reviewed the school system's policy on granting transfers between schools.

The current policy, No. 6203, says that "maintenance of appropriate socioeconomic and achievement diversity in all schools" has to be considered in deciding whether to grant a transfer request. Transfers requests that "contribute to ... greater socioeconomic and achievement diversity may be approved" by the system's Growth and Management Department, which handles assignments, it says.

In light of the school board's current move to take diversity out of the student-assignment process, the Policy Committee discussed removing the language from transfers, too. Chairwoman Debra Goldman, saying the issue would no doubt engender discussion, said it will go to the board's Committee of the Whole next week, when all members attend.

The board has split 5-4 on most votes about how to assign students to schools, with Chairman Ron Margiotta and four members elected last fall, including Goldman, voting for change. They prefer a model based on Community-based assignments that they say will keep students as close to home as possible and reduce the frequency of transfers.

The committee also debated whether to alter language that aims to prevent students changing schools to play sports and to discourage recruiting between schools for top athletes.

Goldman said she is concerned that students who may not be able to play a sport at their assigned schools have to say that athletics isn't part of asking for a transfer.

Bobby Guthrie, the district's senior director of athletics, told Goldman's panel, "When we changed this policy, we had several things occurring" that officials wanted to stop.

Now, Guthrie said after referring to districts that have been stripped of sports titles because of eligibility issues, "When I hear of others, I think, 'Boy, we have a dream world here.'"

Board member and former high school principal Kevin Hill said the principal of a school from which a student is transferring can "release" the student, avoiding a yearlong red-shirt period the policy sets.

In the end, the committee decided only to add "without an appeal" to a section heading that says transfer students "may not be allowed" to play sports.

The committee also looked at a policy that governs school bus routing and where bus stops can be put. Members agreed they dislike a rule that allows for a maximum ride of two hours for middle and high school students, but heeded Finance Committee Chair Keith Sutton's plea not to take on any changes now, when the district is trying to close a $20 million budget gap and still does not know how much funding it will get from the county commissioners.

The committee also heard a plea from the Growth and Management Staff to make it policy to finish any board-ordered reassignments earlier than this year's April 6 wrap-up. Assignments are due to parents of all 140,000 students by June 1.

Custom has had the school board wrapping up its changes in February, department director Laura Evans told the group, even though policy gives it until May 1. The committee will take up a possible change to March 1, suggested by member Chris Malone.


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