The enrollment policies, set to take effect in the 2019-20 school year, state that students who live within a school's attendance boundary have top priority to attend the school, followed by children of district staff. Families can still apply to transfer their children to "under-enrolled" schools with at least 25 percent of excess capacity — which today means Castro, Theuerkauf and Monta Loma elementary schools — but must reapply for the transfer each year and can be rejected if the school fills up.
Once implemented, the new policies will be a big departure from what the district has today, which allows large numbers of children to attend a school outside of their attendance boundary. More than 100 students at each of the three of the district's most popular campuses — Bubb, Huff and Landels elementary schools — are from outside the intended region, and will be effectively "reset" back to their intended campus come fall 2019, Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph told board members at the June 14 meeting.
"Any student who is out of their current bounds would be either sent back to their (neighborhood) school or required to apply for one of the intradistrict transfer exemptions," Rudolph said.
Demographic data presented to the board shows nearly 500 students will be out of compliance with the new policy and would not be eligible to stay at Huff, Bubb and Landels in the 2019-20 school year, and many more would have to reapply on an annual basis to stay at under-enrolled schools.
The new policy sets up a formal transfer application process that skirts these new rules, but only for special circumstances. This could include children who need to be moved because of bullying or compliance with federal Title IX civil rights, as well as special education placement for special day classes at designated school sites.
The criteria for enrollment priorities is a streamlined, heavily simplified version of the old transfer policies, which allowed parents to sign up their child for any one school in the district along with their neighborhood school. If the district allowed a child to transfer into another school, the student had a guaranteed spot through graduation and locked in a higher enrollment priority for any siblings. Those policies, Rudolph told trustees, led to high-performance schools like Bubb and Huff being slammed for space, with large cohorts of students coming in from all over the district.
"Some of our exemptions and former priorities created the mess that we're in," he said. "Once you attend a school, you stay at a school until you leave."
A strict approach to grandfathering
At the same June 14 meeting, school board members also unanimously backed a plan to implement new school attendance boundaries — including a large carve-out of Whisman neighborhoods slated for the new Jose Antonio Vargas Elementary School — at a quick pace, denying requests for special exemptions and rules that would have allowed some kids to avoid being displaced in fall 2019.
The modified attendance boundaries are set to take effect in the 2019-20 school year, and propose shifting several neighborhoods from one school to another. Shoreline West residents, for example, would be zoned for Landels Elementary in lieu of being zoned for Bubb Elementary.
School board members agreed to allow fifth-grade students and their siblings to attend their current school regardless of boundary changes in the 2019-20 school year, allowing them to finish their final year at elementary school without being uprooted by the new attendance zones. Trustees played with the idea of exempting specific neighborhoods from having to adhere to the new school boundaries, but ultimately decided against it in order to give equal treatment to the entire school district.
The school district has a number of incentives for imposing the new boundaries as soon as possible. The new zoning means a large number of students will no longer attend Bubb and Huff, which have both been overenrolled for years. District officials have dealt with the overcrowding by placing additional portable classrooms on the blacktop space, which will remain until enrollment decreases. Construction plans at the schools call for building 18 classrooms accommodating 450 students, but both schools house closer to 600 kids.
But residents from the Willowgate neighborhood urged the school board to reverse course on the strict grandfathering policy, requesting an exemption specifically carved out for their neighborhood. This would have allowed the children in the area attending Landels Elementary to stay at the school instead of moving to Theuerkauf Elementary as is called for under the new attendance boundaries. Parents described the current trip to school as a comfortable bike ride down Stevens Creek Trail to a closer campus, and lamented that they would no longer have that option next year.
Rudolph acknowledged that the displacement of children is a tough pill to swallow, but he strongly encouraged the even-handed approach as a means to avoid infighting between neighborhoods that he has seen since his first day on the job. At the same meeting the school board announced it was hiring Rudolph, board members faced intense opposition to school boundary changes that did not include opening a new Whisman school — a proposal that trustees ultimately scuttled later that night.
Giving special treatment to specific regions of the city through grandfathering exemptions, he said, would essentially pit one community against another for the next five years, perpetuating a problem he has witnessed since he picked up the top role in the district.
"I am uncomfortable that this community, that Mountain View — a community I've grown to love — has started to fight each other because of a process that has taken us two to three years to resolve," Rudolph said.
Although Willowgate residents were present at the meeting to advocate on behalf of their neighborhood, Rudolph cautioned that other communities would catch wind of any special treatment and question why the district played favorites. In past meetings, the school board also heard requests to exempt families living in a small area of the city rezoned from Huff to Bubb.
"What I'm afraid of is that some voices that are not here, for one reason or another, will come back and they will say 'Well why is this community, this neighborhood, valued more than my neighborhood,'" Rudolph said. "As a superintendent, I am not comfortable with the arguing and the finger-pointing that is currently taking place."
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