DCPS has adjusted the language in rules covering enrollment in out-of-boundary schools. One of the aims, officials say, is to determine with more precision which families are actually eligible to place their children in schools outside their immediate neighborhoods.
Parents who don't want the public school assigned to them by law can enter an annual winter lottery. Children who already have a sibling at the school being sought get preference under the D.C. Municipal Regulations.
Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee has tinkered with the other preference, which gave families an edge if they lived "within reasonable walking distance" of the school they sought. That distance was defined as a three-block radius for elementary students and five blocks for secondary students.
The new rule describes reasonable walking distance as 3,000 feet for an elementary student and 5,000 feet for middle or high school. Jennifer Calloway, spokeswoman for Rhee, said the change clarifies and standardizes walking distances, allowing easier use of online tracking tools and GIS systems.
"Parents will automatically know whether this preference applies to their child when they input their address in the online application for the lottery," Calloway said of the amended rule, posted on the D.C. Register Nov. 27 and effective Jan 1.
"This change has also simultaneously increased the number of families who will get the [out-of-boundary] preference and decreased the likelihood that individuals will be able to falsely claim [out-of-boundary] preference," she said.
Parents who want to enter this year's lottery can apply online at dcps.dc.gov between Jan. 28 and Feb. 28. No paper applications will be accepted. If you don't have web access, you can call or visit the nearest D.C. public school for assistance. Applicants will be assigned random numbers for each school applied to--six is the maximum-- and the lottery will be held March 2 with results mailed home on March 8. Wait lists will be created for schools were demand exceeds available space.
Of course, Rhee has the authority to grant out-of-boundary placements to families that don't enter the lottery. Such was the case last year when the twin sons of D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty were able to enroll at the coveted Lafayette Elementary in the Chevy Chase neighborhood, even though their assigned school was the lower performing West Elementary in Crestwood. Fenty flatly refused to discuss the matter, but a source familiar with the lottery process said he did not enter the drawing.
Rhee wouldn't discuss the specifics of Fenty's situation either when pressed last year, other than to say that no rules were broken. Regulations allow her to approve a "discretionary transfer" if she deems it to be "in the best interests of the student, and that the transfer would promote the overall interests of the school system."