School switch rules tighten


Faced with crowded classrooms and increasing instances of fraudulent transfer applications, Carroll County is tightening its rules on allowing students to attend schools other than the ones they are assigned to based on boundary lines.

Eliminating a loophole that school officials suspected was being abused by many families, a high school student no longer will be allowed to attend a different county school because the site of the student's after-school supervision is closer to another school.

Families seeking permission for a child to attend a different school because of a recommendation from a physician or therapist will need to provide additional documentation from the doctor explaining the student's treatment plan. (In the past, nearly every transfer request, accompanied only by a doctor's note, was granted.)

Schools will be "closed" - meaning few requests to attend the school will be granted to any student who does not live within attendance boundaries - after the school is at 90 percent capacity, rather than 100 percent.

Last year, about 1,500 Carroll students were allowed to transfer to schools other than the ones they were assigned to attend. The majority of the requests are for elementary school pupils whose after-school or before-school day care is closer to a different school.

The new applications for transfer requests are stricter, with more blanks for signatures of parents and child care providers, and stiffer warnings about penalties for falsifying an application.

"We're trying to send a message to families that we, as a school system, want children to attend school in their designated areas," said Cynthia Little, director of pupil services.

"In a school system of this size, this crowded ... we really want kids to attend their home school. Even the wording of the policy has gone from more permissive to: 'We believe kids should go to the schools in their attendance areas.'"

The pupil-services staff began reviewing Carroll's policy and regulations on transfer applications in the summer after an emotional year of redistricting and the opening of Century High School in Eldersburg.

During several months of community input in 2000 on proposed school boundary adjustments, many parents expressed frustration that their children were being transferred to schools farther from home to reduce crowding at schools attended by children who should have been going to different schools.

In the months before Century High opened in August, families of some students bound for the school sought transfers and complained to the school board about class offerings, the lack of varsity sports and the hardships created when siblings attended other high schools. (Because Century opened with only ninth- and 10th-graders, it was possible for a freshman or sophomore to be assigned to Century while an elder brother or sister remained at Liberty or South Carroll high schools.)

"The opening of Century was an anomaly, and there was a bubble of strangeness going on," Little said. "It was a more emotion-laden process this year. We've had more falsified applications this year. And we've had more attempts by parents just taking their kid to the school they want to."

Students who are caught attending an out-of-district school based on a fraudulent application typically are sent back to their assigned schools within five days. Little said that is "far more difficult for a child than transitioning to an in-district school to start with."

Permission to transfer between schools also can be rescinded if a student's attendance, behavior or grades are unsatisfactory.

New applications for out-of-district requests are available at each of the county's 38 schools and from the pupil services department at 410-751-3116.

Under the new regulations, all applications and supporting materials must be submitted no later than April 1.

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