Eighth graders in the D.C. public schools have been shopping for the high school they want to attend in the fall, under a new policy approved by the school board last year.

The new policy, announced recently by Superintendent Floretta D. McKenzie, gives incoming ninth graders an opportunity that 10th graders have had for several years -- to choose to attend a high school outside the part of the city in which they live.

The opportunity is open only to those who are seeking a special program that is not available in the neighborhood school they attend.

The school board approved the new procedure after noting that increasing numbers of ninth graders were making special requests to transfer into schools that have special programs.

Among these are Banneker High School, the city's model academic high school, or Dunbar High School, which has a pre-engineering curriculum.

Under the plan, students who will be entering the ninth or 10th grade next autumn and who are interested in special academic programs must complete their enrollment forms by this Thursday and return them to their schools the next day.

Selections will be made randomly by a computer, officials said.

About 600 students who are currently eighth graders are expected to enroll in ninth-grade level courses at schools offering special programs, according to school officials.

The plan to allow ninth graders to select their own high school programs was devised because "we wanted to help students expand their educational horizons and career choices," said Nathaniel Hill, a spokesman for the school system's guidance division.

School board member Linda Cropp (Ward 4), supported the plan last year when she headed the board's educational programs committee.

"There were many students who wanted to have the flexibility to go to schools outside their jurisdiction for a number of various reasons," Cropp said.

There has been some confusion about the enrollment program, according to several parents of eighth graders.

A letter from McKenzie announcing the plan has not been received by many of them, they said.

More than a dozen parents at Hardy Middle School, where eighth graders are normally sent into ninth-grade classes at Wilson High School, considered one of the city's best high schools, received notices that their children would no longer be extended that privilege.

However, school officials have said that no changes would occur in the so-called "feeder schools," such as Hardy.

"There's supposed to be a booklet that explains the different programs under the open enrollment program," said Nancy Cormeny, whose twin daughters are eighth graders at Hardy, located at Foxhall Road and Volta Place NW.

"I never received that booklet," Cormeny said. "There was a meeting of [about 20] parents recently and only one parent was there who received the booklet."