PERHAPS Oklahoma City School Board members knew exactly what they were doing when unanimously denying transfers into Classen School of Advanced Studies, one of the state's premier high schools. In doing so, the members declared — at the administration's urging — that out-of-district students will no longer be welcome at Classen. Students already at the school who live outside the district's borders won't be asked to leave.
The decision had an immediate impact for some families, although how many isn't yet known. The board officially denied eight transfers, but as many as 40 other families also may be denied entry after believing they had been accepted. Some of the affected students had already enrolled in courses for the coming year. In the days after the decision, top district officials admitted to an internal misfire and said Classen administrators shouldn't have allowed out-of-district students to participate in the admissions process.
School board members and administrators should admit the students who applied and who were accepted in good faith. One board member's “life isn't fair” attitude is beneath what the community should expect to hear from a public official when children are asked to pay the price for the mistakes of adults.
With officials pointing the finger at the school's leadership, it's also appropriate for the board to ask some tough questions about internal accountability and an apparent disconnect between school leadership and administration that makes the board's job extra difficult. Some current board members hadn't yet been elected when the grading scandal at Douglass High School broke. But that situation also brought to light some lax internal oversight that's had real consequen-ces for students who have spent long days and weekends trying to graduate on time.
Another big issue is why the board and administration made what amounts to a major policy shift without informing patrons of its intentions.
Transfers aren't a new discussion. Through the years, Classen has been the target of ire for skimming top students from schools inside and outside the district. But Classen isn't the only school that accepts transfers. District reports show that more than 1,000 students transferred into the district last school year at a variety of grade levels. Of the transfers considered last week, only Classen's were denied.
The feeling that the board may want to clamp down on how many out-of-district students it allows is a bit curious given that the district is a partner in John W. Rex Elementary, a charter school that's long been talked about as a school that could serve Oklahoma City students and those from other districts whose parents work in the downtown area. Phil Horning, vice chairman of the Oklahoma City School Board, also serves as co-chairman of the charter school's board.
If the school board wants to have a discussion about transfer policy, it should do so. Members should look at the numbers of in-district and out-of-district transfers for every school and figure out if current policies make sense. Then they should ask the community to weigh in.
Philosophies change as boards change. With three new board members in Oklahoma City, it's reasonable to expect policy changes. But members need to take the time to consider all of their options and gather as much information as possible before acting.