Local News

Parents fear change in Wake's magnet school policy

Posted October 15, 2009 5:51 p.m. EDT
Updated October 15, 2009 7:18 p.m. EDT

— Patti Merz is a big believer in Wake County's magnet schools – so much so that her 10-year-old daughter, Alex, has a 45-minute daily commute from her home in Cary to Wiley Elementary School in downtown Raleigh.

"We chose that school because of its emphasis on international languages," Merz said.

The fifth-grader is studying Spanish and German and has excelled in her studies so much that she can sing in German.

Her mother wants to see those language skills continue at a magnet middle school next year, but she fears a potential change in policy by the Wake County Board of Education.

"That choice might be taken away from us," Merz said.

Board members, in an effort to find a balance of socio-economic levels in schools, want to know if base schools have a higher percentage of lower-income students because parents are choosing to enroll their children in magnet or year-round schools.

Base schools are the schools students would be assigned to if they did not choose to go to magnet schools.

"We just want to take a look and make sure it's not to the detriment of the sending school," school board member Eleanor Goettee said.

Parents like Merz worry that if there is a change, the school board will deny families with certain base schools access to magnet or year-round schools.

That means Alex could potentially go to her base middle school in Cary, Dillard Drive, which does not have a German language program.

"It's telling a child, 'You live here. You don't have the same choices that another child does,'" Merz said. "That's not fair."

The rationale, according to school system staff members, is that keeping more families at the base school will help reduce the percentage of students on free and reduced lunch.

For example, the percentage of students on free and reduced lunch at Fox Road Elementary School is 66 percent. That figure would decrease to 46 percent if all students assigned there actually attended the school.

The Wake County Public School System has identified 17 schools where free and reduced lunch percentages go up 10 percent or more with students transferring.

Neither staff nor board members, however, have made any recommendations about limiting access to magnet schools.

"There is no delineated list of schools that we've identified where we are going to refuse parents the choice," Goettee said. "That is not the case."

Members have asked school staff for more data to present at a committee meeting on Oct. 27.

"We're asking for data to be returned to us so we can look at it – again, in another couple of weeks and just go from there," she said.

Goettee says one option might be to reduce the number of magnet seats available by lottery.

But Merz worries Alex's future won't include a magnet school.

"We want to be able to decide where our children go, and we want input," she said.