Many tensions surround intradistrict school transfers
Every year, according to state law, parents may apply to their local school districts to secure their children a place at a building in the district other than the one to which they would normally be assigned.
Districts generally make an attempt to accommodate requests. Enrollment at the requested school is but one factor to consider; the Ohio Department of Education also requires, for example, that districts consider the racial imbalances that could result from large-scale movement into or out of a particular school.
Districts are not, however, required to address other considerations, such as socioeconomic status or gender. In Cleveland Heights-University Heights, the yearly intradistrict transfer game can create tension that negatively affects every school’s climate.
In this district, as in others, the need to consolidate certain types of services in one building is administratively efficient.
But what about children who are typically developing—for whom there is no “special” educational reason to transfer; no differentiated learning needs? Should parents of these children feel socially obligated to remain in their home school? In doing so, they would appease a variety of stakeholders: other parents who feel betrayed by their peers for taking advantage of an “unfair” policy, buildings that can be dramatically impacted with a spike in free and reduced lunch rates, schools that have ballooning class sizes of struggling learners (or, conversely, small class sizes largely comprised of strong learners), and school report cards that fail to meet performance indices. For some parents, it can be difficult to decide where responsibility to their own child ends and their responsibility to the community begins.
To illustrate this, FairfaxElementary School’s economically disadvantaged percentage has risen from 57 percent in the 2008–09 school year to 70.4 percent in 2013–14. Roxboro Elementary School’s, however, dropped from 51.8 percent to 44.7 percent in the same time period. Fairfax earned a D on last year’s performance index while Roxboro earned a B.
Despite Fairfax having a lower rate of gifted-identified students than other schools in past years, the district is developing a self-contained highly-abled program at that site for 2015–16. Fairfax families with qualified students can now remain in their home school instead of requesting transfers to one of the other programs at Boulevard or Roxboro elementary schools. Whether Fairfax will see a positive return on that curricular investment won’t be known for some time.
Ultimately, the root causes of why people seek intradistrict transfers must be frankly discussed. It cannot merely be that parents who request them are selfish or disinterested in their neighborhood school. There is a problematic perception—intentional or not, advanced formally or not—that privileges some schools over others. No one wins with this unspoken competition.
Perhaps a new marketing strategy that highlights the features of each school building—its history in the district, its unique school climate, its programming and its children—would be a worthy campaign before the start of the term.
Ultimately, some families may still opt to leave one school for another, no doubt a highly considered choice. They should not be shamed or feel guilty. Modeling social empathy is as valuable as modeling school loyalty. Children learn from both.
Sarah West is Ph.D. candidate in urban education policy at Cleveland State University; a curriculum developer, instructor and programming specialist in undergraduate studies at Cleveland State University; parent of three CH-UH students at Canterbury Elementary School, a member of the Citizens' Advisory Committee and 15-year resident of Noble Neighborhood.