On Monday night the Warren County School Board succeeded in making a fairly simple, long-standing policy unnecessarily complicated and dangerously close to an invasion of privacy.
Specifically, a 6-2 majority of the board (President Arthur Stewart abstained, while members Paul Mangione and Marcy Morgan dissented) decided that it should be up to the school district superintendent to determine the "domicile" of families in the school district for the purpose of determining where a child attends school.
While on its face that doesn't appear to be a significant departure in existing policy, it raises the question of the definition of domicile, as well as the question of what is best for an individual student and his or her family.
Under state law school districts are required to provide transportation for all students normally assigned to their schools; that hasn't changed.
However, what happens in the case of a child whose parents determine he would be better served academically at a school other than the one to which he or she is assigned? That has been accomodated in the past when the parents agree to provide the transportation, relieving the district of the responsibility.
The revision of the attendance policy passed Monday night undermines that accomodation and opens a whole can of worms, both ethically and legally.
First, all schools do not offer the same opportunities within the district because of the disparity in enrollment numbers. As an example, Warren Area High School (Region 1) offers more diversified academic opportunities than, say, Sheffield (Region 2). Yet, there is no differential in the tax rate among attendance areas.
The great majority of parents are satisfied with their child's assignment, but suppose some, for specific needs of their child, are not? We believe they have a right to make arrangements at their expense to send their child to a school that fits their child's needs.
Suppose a family owns property in more than one region, and thus pays school taxes on both. Will the superintendent camp out at the curb at one of them to ensure that the student in question is actually "domiciled" at that address?
Was there a problem that instigated this policy rewrite?
We learned at Monday's meeting that a grand total of four students from two families will be affected by this policy change, hardly an indication of a major logistical problem.
So, why the change? Is it possible that administration and the board are fearful that in the coming years the loss of parity in curricular opportunities will be exacerbated by a further reduction in student population, thus prompting more parents to seek a move? If so, the board and its administration should be looking for ways to even the playing field, rather than usurping a parent's right to seek out the best education possible for their children.