Wake County Schools

Wake student assignment plan splits siblings

A Wake County father says that, as it stands now, his two young sons will be going to schools miles apart next year, even though the school system's new student assignment plan is supposed to keep siblings together.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — It's difficult to tell a rising kindergartner that he won't be getting to go to school with his older brother, but that's what Michael Thompson says he had to do last week when he found out his two boys won't be enrolled in the same Wake County school next year.

Now, Thompson says, he is struggling to find a way to fix it.

"I'm losing sleep, working 70 hours a week and trying to stay on task for providing for my family," Thompson said Wednesday. "I don't have time for it. It's their full-time job to fix it, not mine."

Thompson says he is frustrated with Wake County school administrators and the district's new student assignment plan, which gives parents more input in where their children go to school.

Brier Creek Elementary School in Raleigh is where his 7-year-old son, Ayden, is enrolled in second grade. Since Thompson had a chance to choose schools for 2012-13, he chose to send him to Sycamore Creek Elementary School, about 2 miles away from the Thompson home.

That's where he also chose to send 5-year-old Bailey, who will start kindergarten in the fall.

Last week, when the school district released student assignments for those who participated in the first round of choice selection, Thompson learned that only Ayden was assigned to Sycamore Creek Elementary. Bailey was assigned to Brier Creek Elementary – 7 miles away from home.

"Brier Creek starts at 9:15 a.m. and Sycamore at 8:15 a.m.," he said. "So, that would mean four car pools a day for my wife to pick up and drop off at two schools."

School system administrators say the new assignment plan is meant to avoid dividing families, but they insist the Thompson case isn't a mistake. They say the reason for the split has to do with how the Thompsons decided to choose.

In an email to Thompson, the district's chief transformation officer, Judith Peppler, wrote:

"Because of the choice you made to select Sycamore Creek as your top choice, when your older child was pre-assigned to Brier Creek for next year, you lost your sibling priority under the plan (which was to Brier Creek) so the system didn't necessarily keep them together."

"They should just fix it," Thompson said.

Thompson said the reason doesn't make any sense to him. He said he followed the district's instructions.

In an email statement to WRAL News Wednesday, Peppler said she believes both children will ultimately be enrolled in the same school.

"We have been in contact with the Thompson family to explain their situation and discuss the options for getting both of their children at the same school," Peppler said. "We are confident that we will be able to do so by the end of the second choice round and appreciate the Thompsons' patience as we work through the rest of the process."

Right now, Bailey is eighth on a waiting list for Sycamore Creek Elementary. Thompson could know next week whether his son will be assigned there.

He's hoping that will be the case.

"I guess we have to wait until final selections to see how things play out, and it could come out to be great," Thompson said.

"But, as it's seen now and as I see it being handled now, it seems like a colossal disaster, because the people who have the knowledge and power to sell the concept to the public are failing to do so by saying, 'Just wait, it will probably work out.'"

Administrators say that the program has effectively assigned 19,048 students under the new student assignment plan and that parents who are unhappy with the results might be up against space shortages in their chosen schools or they didn't take advantage of options that would have raised their chances of getting the school they wanted.

Parents still have until April 9 to go online to rank their school choices. For those who don't, their children will automatically be assigned to a school next year.