Controversial Student Transfer Policy Released for Public Feedback

Controversial Student Transfer Policy Released for Public Feedback

School board members disagree about phrasing, definitions

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The Montgomery County Board of Education meets on Tuesday in Rockville.

Caitlynn Peetz

After tense debate, the Montgomery County Board of Education has released proposed changes to a Montgomery County school district policy that dictates when a student can transfer schools.

In June 2018, the school board began a comprehensive review of the policy. It has met several times to refine language and debate when a student could change schools within the county.

The current policy outlines specific circumstances for transfers. For a transfer to be approved, the applicant must prove a unique hardship, which is defined as “problems that are not common to large numbers of families.”

Twice on Tuesday, board member Brenda Wolff proposed striking 40 lines that aimed to clarify the definition of a “unique hardship.” Both times, the proposal failed because it did not receive a board majority of five votes.

The language, a point of contention among board members, includes examples of a “difficulty” families could cite for needing a student transfer assignment.

Among the examples are circumstances in which parents’ work hours extend “significantly beyond the typical hours” provided by child care programs and financial constraints that prevent a family from being able to afford child care.

Wolff argued that the language would hamstring the board into accepting transfer requests that cite those examples.

Board member Jeanette Dixon argued, however, that the phrasing provides families who otherwise might not understand the transfer process tangible examples of situations in which a transfer is necessary and allowed under school district policy.

“I think we want to provide as much clarity to parents as possible,” Dixon said. “Some people know how to write the letters to the board to get what they need for their child. Some don’t necessarily.

“But, Brenda, you’re big on communicating with parents and having them understand what it is we’re trying to do, and I don’t think this is something you want to have them guess about.”

Consideration about mental health, staff members’ children

The proposed new version says students’ mental, physical and emotional health could be considered as a reason for a transfer. The school district would require documentation from a physician or counselor.

The updated policy would allow the district to grant transfer requests for MCPS staff members who want their children to attend the schools where they work. It only would apply if they are employed at high-poverty schools or schools with extended academic years.

“The superintendent of schools may establish a process and timeline for consideration of such requests, as well as limit eligibility based on staff performance or conduct concerns,” according to the policy.

Staff members would have to provide a child care plan for the children for “all times during the staff’s duty day.”

Other staff members could apply for their children to transfer to the schools where they work, but would not receive special consideration.

Transfers, regardless of the reasons, are considered on a case-by-case basis depending on the school’s capacity and the school’s ability to serve a student’s special needs.

The policy was last substantially revised in 1995.

On Tuesday, the school board voted to release proposed changes to the public for feedback for 30 days.

The school board will review public feedback and vote to adopt the final policy by the end of the year, in time to be used for the next round of transfer requests the district considers.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com

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