Local News

Year-Round Consent Letters Create Opportunity for Some

Posted May 10, 2007 5:42 p.m. EDT
Updated May 10, 2007 7:32 p.m. EDT

— The Wake County school system's year-round school permission letters have created a window of opportunity for some who were previously denied a chance to enroll in a year-round school.

The district is sending the letters to the families of about 32,000 students slated to attend a year-round school for the 2007-08 school year. The letters seek to obtain parental consent for the year-round assignment, and parents who opt for a traditional school will have to wait until mid-June to find out what school their children will attend.

The district is trying to comply with a court order that prevented students from being assigned to year-round schools without parental consent.

A parents group sued to block the district's plan to convert 19 elementary schools and three middle schools from traditional schedules to a year-round calendar. A judge last week ruled that a 2004 state law setting the opening and closing dates of North Carolina public schools prevented the district from forcing children to attend year-round schools.

District officials say they need the extra space year-round schools provide to provide seats for an expected 8,000 new students next year. But the parents group said the shift in schedules would disrupt their lives and was unfair to their children.

Families who backed the lawsuit said the permission letter offers them an impossible choice -- a year-round schedule they don't want at the school they do want, or the traditional calendar they want at an unknown school.

"They're coercing us and using strong-arm tactics to get us to choose what they think is best for us," parent Allison Backhouse said. "I think people are going to bow to the Board of Education. They've been fed lies."

Meanwhile, parents like Paige Holland are excited about the opportunity the permission letters offer. She unsuccessfully tried to get her 5-year-old son, Killian, into kindergarten at a year-round school a few months ago and now hopes a spot may open up at one of the converted schools.

"We feel really bad for the parents that have been been so torn through this and the teachers. But personally for us, it's hopefully going to be a positive thing. We hope we're one of the ones that gets filled in to fill a year-round spot, Holland said.

District officials expect at least two-thirds of the families receiving permission letters to accept year-round assignments, said Rosa Gill, the vice chairwoman of the Wake County Board of Education. The district will then turn to families like Holland's to fill the remaining slots.

Based on initial feedback officials have received, most parental choices for traditional or year-round schools will be honored, Gill said.

"We'll work very very hard with parents to make sure that they get the type of calendar that they want for their children. We can't guarantee them where they'll be going, but we can guarantee them a traditional track," she said. "It's our responsibility to provide a quality education for all students, and sometimes that limits the choice that we can give to parents."