The Kanawha County school board's crackdown on families who send their children to schools outside their home districts is a mess.
The board's problem involves a few schools, notably in South Hills. Blessed with a high ratio of upper-income families, those schools enjoy many markers of success -- including good test scores, visible parent involvement and interesting sports and academic offerings. People want to send their children where they think schools are best, so naturally many parents aim for South Hills. This produces more students than the schools can handle, while other schools have empty seats.
But the board's solution is worse than the problem:
* Starting next year, rules will make it more difficult and potentially disruptive to all students of all ages in all attendance areas. Students already accepted at a school out of area must reapply every year. (That doesn't mean reapply efficiently and well in advance, so all details are settled by the first day of school. It means standing in line and then waiting until several days into the school year until enrollment numbers shake out to know for sure where your 6-year-old will attend.)
* Starting next year, younger siblings cannot automatically attend the same out-of-area school where an older brother or sister is already enrolled. Parents will have to apply for that child separately. Imagine problems for households where one child is accepted and another denied. How utterly unhelpful. Do you send both children to a school you don't want? Or do you juggle two stops every morning and afternoon, and twice the PTO duties?
* Students who have tardiness or truancy problems will lose their place at their chosen schools. While this provision has an attractive punitive flavor, it shows no understanding of children, families, truancy or education. Truancy usually has complex family issues behind it, such as substance abuse, violence, joblessness, economic hardship, illness, mental illness, chaos. The younger the child, the less the child is at fault for missing school. So how does breaking ties a child has to a school nurture that child's education and well-being?
Here is what this board seems to least understand -- students are young people who form relationships with their schools, classmates and educators. The strength of those relationships contributes to their education. Families become members of school communities. These relationships should not be casually severed for some convenience of the board office.
The school board should rethink. There must be a way to gently say, "No, I'm sorry," to new transfer requests at overcrowded schools without disrupting everyone else. Changing schools can be tough enough on students even in relatively good circumstances. Students shouldn't be forced or hassled into it as a matter of policy.