With less than a week before the first day of classes, principals at Phelps Luck and Bryant Woods elementaries in Columbia were stunned to find out that they will have to allow pupils to transfer to schools with better scores under a provision in the federal No Child Left Behind legislation.
"My understanding is that we're not sending [the transfer] information out until after the school year starts," said Phelps Luck's principal, John Morningstar, who learned Friday that his school and Bryant Woods were still on the transfer list.
"It's crazy to send it out now," he said, "just absolutely nuts."
The surprise is the latest snag to surface as the county tries to interpret the Public School Choice option in the national No Child Left Behind Act. The law allows families to move their children from Title I schools labeled as being in need of "school improvement" because of poor test scores, a move first exercised last school year.
The problem developed from trying to identify the schools that have not made the required progress without any reliable data, Howard school representatives said.
The state is not releasing local Maryland School Assessment scores, the figures schools systems use to single out school-improvement schools, until Friday. But Howard's deadline for transfers from underperforming schools under the provision was June 6.
"Now you see the problem," said Rae Ellen Levene, Howard's instructional facilitator in charge of Title I schools, which receive extra funds to help disadvantaged students.
Levene said the school system relied on last year's list of six school-improvement schools to determine which would likely have to extend the transfer option again this year. But basic skills test scores at Phelps Luck and Bryant Woods, both of which were on last year's list, showed enough improvement that school system officials thought the schools would be exempt this year.
"But the state disagreed," said Howard school spokeswoman Patti Caplan. Now, the county school system is in a scramble to get the word out.
The other four schools required to offer the reassignments, all in Columbia - Swansfield, Talbott Springs, Dasher Green and Guilford elementaries - sent letters to parents in mid-May informing them of the option and the June 6 deadline date.
Phelps Luck and Bryant Woods will have an Oct. 1 deadline to finalize their transfers - nearly six weeks after the first day of school Monday.
"This is not a Harry Potter school. We can't do it with a wand," Levene said. "It takes time."
Last year, 49 children of the 2,300 eligible for transfers in Howard took the option. Two pupils from Phelps Luck chose to transfer, and one Bryant Woods pupil chose the option.
Levene said she couldn't offer data on this year's transfers because it's unofficial.
"We know we've made progress on many different data points," said Bryant Woods' principal, Jason McCoy. "We're staying the course."