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BoE OKs school choice policy
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The Effingham County Board of Education unanimously approved a policy regulating school choice within the district to comply with a bill that was passed by the General Assembly earlier this year.

Superintendent Randy Shearouse said the board had looked at a possible policy at the retreat. At that time, the bill had been passed, but the governor had not signed it into law.

“(The bill) allows for school choice within the district, provided there’s room at the school and the school board has the authority to make a policy regarding what circumstances exist and what’s allowable as far as people moving within the district,” he said.

He said the school board may have to modify the policy in the future, but the law requires it to be in place by July 1.

“We’re going to adhere to that law and have the policy and if any changes exist, then we’ll come back to the board with those changes at that time,” Shearouse said. “We feel like we have a pretty decent policy in place.”

He said the policy defines guidelines on the capacity of a school, and if it will allow students to transfer in under choice.

“Available classroom space includes permanent classroom space, not to include portable classrooms,” he said. “Then the school has five students less than maximum class size allowed by the state in grade and subject allowed by the state in the grade level and or type class, or the course segment in which the student wishes to enroll.”

Shearouse said if a school had six first grade slots open, it would allow one student to transfer in under the choice policy.

“Because we have about a 3.5 percent growth rate each year in our system, you have to allow some space for folks moving in the district to be able to go to that school without adding a teacher due to growth,” he said.

He said the total student population of a school is also taken into consideration.

“We’ve talked about Blandford (Elementary) being really crowded at about 750, and it’s built for 750, and so Blandford would not be able to take any students under choice because they’re at capacity with the students in their district,” Shearouse said.

Accounting for the expected growth, Blandford’s enrollment would be around 725 before the anticipated 3.5 percent increase would put it at 750.

“But if they went down to 720, they would be able to take students up to 725,” Shearouse said. “We felt like we had to have a cushion there as well to allow for growth.”

He said the policy also requires that parents will have the responsibility and cost of transportation to and from school.

He said once a student begins at a school under choice, that student will have a right to complete their education at that school. But that does not include automatically moving into the next school level.

As an example, he said a child could have a choice to go out of their district into a school that feeds South Effingham Middle School, but “they don’t have a guaranteed right to go to South Middle,” he said. “They would have to reapply to go to South Middle because there might not be room for them to attend there.”

Shearouse said there are federal reasons for changing schools, including if a school is in needs improvement status or is classified as an unsafe school. Those students would have first priority to change schools. Currently, there are no schools in Effingham in needs improvement status or considered unsafe.

The forms to request a transfer will be available online, and the district will notify parents with a list of schools that have space to accept students no later than July 1.