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School board moves ahead with year-round conversion

The Wake County school board decided to appeal a judge's ruling against mandatory year-round schools and move ahead with a planned conversion of 22 schools.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The Wake County Board of Education voted 6-1 on Friday to appeal a judge's ruling against mandatory year-round schools and move forward with converting 22 existing schools to a year-round schedule.

Complying with Superior Court Judge Howard Manning's Thursday ruling that the school board cannot assign students to a year-round school without parental consent, board members decided to give parents the option for the 2007-2008 school year.

The appeal would seek to clarify what Manning's ruling means for the school system and if it is overturned, would give school leaders the option of mandatory year-round schools in the future, school Superintendent Del Burns said.

Approximately 1,300 families assigned to mandatory year-round schools had requested to opt out earlier in the process. The school system had 2,600 traditional seats available for those opting out.

The school system will most likely send parents a letter in which they will have two options: the year-round school to which their children would have gone or a school with a traditional calendar.

Once parents consent, the decision is final, school board members said, and there is no guarantee where the traditional-calendar assignment would be.

"Those who do not consent, we will have to address at a traditional-calendar school, at some place in the county," Burns said. "Obviously, we'll try to make it as close to the neighborhood as we could."

Manning's decision throws the district's plans for the 2007-08 school year into chaos, with less than two months to find classroom space for an expected 8,000 new students, hire teachers and rework bus routes.

Last fall, the school system approved moving 19 elementary schools and three middle schools to year-round schedules to accommodate the booming student population. Year-round schools, they say, give them the extra space.

The school board decided to move forward with the conversion of the 22 schools and will open up enrollment to the entire county once parents decide.

Approximately 42,000 students are expected to attend a year-round school next year. Including the 22 schools slated to go year-round, 52 schools will be on a year-round schedule.

"The order no where -- no where --indicates that (Manning) has asked us to not convert schools, no where does it indicate we have to have a certain number of parents who agree to it to convert schools," said school board member Lori Millberg.

Manning's ruling affects about 30,500 students -- not only the 20,000 at the 22 conversion schools, the rest applied or volunteered to attend year-round or modified year-round schools.

WakeCares, a parents' group that sued to block the conversion of schools to mandatory year-round schedules, claimed Manning's decision a victory for families on Thursday.

After the school board's decision Friday, members said they were disappointed, saying the move violated the spirit of Manning's order.

"We had hoped that they would be more responsive to all citizens, but it appears they're just going forward with their original plan," said WakeCares cofounder Kathleen Brennan.

But some parents who have been affected by the mandatory year-round school debate expressed relief about the school board's decision.

"People have made life decisions based upon the fact that we were converting to year-round," said Trish Adamkowski, who has spent the past seven months preparing her children for a year-round schedule at Pleasant Union Elementary School.

Although she is not a proponent of year-round schedules, Adamkowski said the uncertainty was causing problems and she is relieved the school board has a new plan.

"I'm happy that there is a decision and that the plans we've worked hard on for the last seven months can continue on," she said. "And we'll see what the future holds."


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