How would D.C. phase in new school boundaries?

Short answer: No one knows yet.

D.C. officials triggered much debate among parents this weekend when they proposed new school boundaries and student-assignment policies that have the potential to affect tens of thousands of families around the city, fundamentally changing how children are assigned to school.

But there are still many unanswered questions for parents who are trying to figure out what this all means for their kids in the near term. First, it remains far from certain that the next mayor will uphold whatever policy Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) announces in September. And second, it's not yet clear how the new boundaries and the revised student-assignment policies — scheduled to begin taking effect in fall 2015 — would be phased in over time.

Deputy Mayor for Education Abigail Smith has promised “significant grandfathering,” but said Saturday during a community meeting at Anacostia High that a specific plan and timeline isn’t possible until officials settle on a final set of boundaries and student-assignment policies.

If the city chooses Policy Example B, for example — which is most like the current way of doing things, with by-right elementary schools that feed into middle and high schools — then there will be decisions to make about who has to abide by the new boundaries and feeders and who doesn’t.

Children currently enrolled in a school are almost certainly going to be allowed to remain, Smith has said. But are current students guaranteed the right to continue in their current feeder pattern? And what about younger siblings who haven’t yet enrolled?

In addition, under Policy Example B all schools would have to set aside a percentage of their seats for out-of-boundary students. When would that set-aside kick in?

No one knows the answers yet.

If the city chooses either of the other scenarios, officials will have to answer many of those same questions, plus others.

For example, Policy Example A groups the city’s elementary schools into “choice sets,” three or four schools located close to one another, at least one of which would have to have a specialized program like Montessori or dual-language. When would that be fully up and running? It’s not clear, but not overnight — the school system would need time to plan for and implement new programs across the city.

Emma Brown writes about D.C. education and about people with a stake in schools, including teachers, parents and kids.
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