A move by Craven County Schools to get more students attending school in their own district has many parents annoyed and scrambling to make new arrangements or file an appeal.
Craven County Board of Education members and staff have been discussing a possible policy change for two or three months, said Glenn Reaves, assistant superintendent. But the board just took official action in mid-May and letters just went to parents affected as late as Friday.
The issue impacts many parents in the Havelock area who have requested that their children attend year-round schools at Arthur W. Edwards Elementary, Havelock Elementary and Tucker Creek Middle.
“The board did revisit the assignment policy as a part of bringing our policy in alignment with North Carolina School Board Association policy,” said Linda Thomas, Board of Education vice chairwoman. “We blended ours with what the state association has and there are very few changes.”
She said the county had a “very lenient policy over the years,” and over time school population had gotten out of balance.
“We had to review the policy because we had so many students attending schools out of district that we had some schools that were overcrowded and some with empty classrooms,” Reaves said.
“Over the last 10 years, there has been pretty different interpretations of old policy. We have eight vacant classrooms at one school and we are having to put two or three mobile units out front at another.”
A change may be needed, but many parents think it is coming too quickly and without a chance for them to weigh in or prepare.
School administration is awaiting a clean copy of the state association policy with the changes incorporated, Jennifer Wagner, public affairs coordinator, said Tuesday.
“I’m upset,” said Joan Roig of New Bern, whose child is expected to change elementary schools from Bangert to Trent Park in New Bern. “It seems like they have known about this for a long time but letting us know after school is out doesn’t even allow us time to apply for private school. It seems like a deceitful and underhanded way of doing business.
“They did not give parents enough notification and they are only giving five days to appeal. Our kids don’t even get a chance to say goodbye.”
Reaves said the second round of letters went out a week ago Wednesday and would have been received around Friday “but there is a right of appeal and parents can do so if they are not happy with the decision.”
Although five days is the printed deadline for appeal, he and administrative staff have not cut off appeals.
Strict adherence to the policy means that any out-of-district transfer is declined, but it grandfathers in fourth-, fifth-, seventh- and eighth-graders as well as rising juniors and seniors in high school, Reaves said.
Sarah Afflerbach is one of those parents affected.
“We got denied going back to Bangert even though we’ve been there three years and our kids have been on the principal’s list for excellent students every semester they’ve been there,” she said.
“I just wish Craven County Schools had given us warning of this change, but they didn’t say anything. We just got a form letter. I really feel dumped by the school system, and the kids are so upset they won’t be with their friends next year. The schools really could have handled this better.”
One Arthur W. Edwards Elementary School parent said her child was set to go to school on July 11, but because of the change, she would have to make arrangements for daycare until traditional schools start on Aug. 26.
Allison Lambson is another Arthur W. Edwards parent affected.
“They approved everyone last year using the exact same reason,” she said. “They never asked for reassignment forms until this year. You shouldn’t have to change your kid’s school unless there is a very good reason.”
Reaves, who is handling reassignments and coordinating appeals, said students would still have the option of year-round classes at Havelock Elementary.
“Any parent who wants year-round school for their kids can get it if they don’t fill up,” he said. “We can still take applications.”
Certain criteria have been established on which to make the decision on the appeals that Reaves said already number about 1,300 from about 2,000 reassignments.
There is no list of criteria, he said.
“It is whatever is defined as an extreme hardship,” Reaves said. “It may be a medical condition that one school is better equipped to handle. It may be extreme circumstances related to childcare. Parents write a letter and state the reason they are requesting the appeal to be granted.”
Reaves said he and two administrative staffers are going through appeals filed so far, and Superintendent Lane Mills will make the final decision on appeals.
Craven County has 14,882 students in 25 schools, 15 elementary, five middle and five high schools including early college high schools, and all are affected by the tightened district policy that Reaves will most likely take more than one year to reconcile.
Reaves said the school system hoped to bring district student population back to center in a couple of years.
“We hope to address this with as little interruption as we can,” he said.
He pointed to overcrowding at Creekside Elementary in New Bern, where two mobile classroom units were moved in this year. He said James W. Smith Elementary in Cove City is one of schools most under capacity.
“If we can get students going to schools in the district in which they reside, we won’t need to buy mobile units,” said Reaves. “It is not cost-efficient to buy mobile units when we have capacity.”