A hur­ri­cane and schools

HISD pol­icy

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - OUTLOOK -

It’s the new­est it­er­a­tion of “Turn Around, Don’t Drown” — fam­i­lies across HISD’s highly com­pet­i­tive mag­net school pro­grams are mak­ing the im­pos­si­ble de­ci­sion whether to evac­u­ate the city to en­sure phys­i­cal safety, or stay in the city in hopes to se­cure their chil­dren’s en­roll­ment in Hous­ton’s best pub­lic schools.

Early Thurs­day, fam­i­lies’ de­ci­sions were mixed. Some par­ents, de­spite liv­ing in ar­eas prone to flood­ing, were com­mit­ted to stick­ing it out through the storm. Oth­ers be­gan dili­gently plan­ning their evac­u­a­tion, valu­ing safety over the po­ten­tial loss of a cov­eted desk in a mag­net pro­gram.

But why the agony? What would make a par­ent with the re­sources to evac­u­ate think twice about seek­ing shel­ter? It all boils down to a key pro­vi­sion in the Hous­ton In­de­pen­dent School District’s Trans­fer Poli­cies, which gov­ern the HISD School Choice pro­gram. Un­der the pol­icy, “Any stu­dent with an ap­proved Mag­net trans­fer must at­tend the first day of school to which the trans­fer is granted in or­der to guar­an­tee a spot at that school un­less there is an ex­ten­u­at­ing cir­cum­stance.

Ex­ten­u­at­ing cir­cum­stances must be ap­proved by the of­fice of school choice (i.e. but not limited to death in the fam­ily or sched­uled travel changes be­yond the par­ent’s con­trol).”

HISD’s rep­u­ta­tion for rigidly en­forc­ing this pro­ce­dure left par­ents care­fully weigh­ing their op­tions in the days lead­ing up to Har­vey’s land­fall. As of Wed­nes­day evening, the Of­fice of School Choice main­tained that miss­ing the first day of school due to a vol­un­tary evac­u­a­tion failed to be an “ex­ten­u­at­ing cir­cum­stance” pro­tect­ing a child’s seat in her mag­net pro­gram, fur­ther com­pli­cat­ing fam­i­lies’ de­ci­sion­mak­ing.

Kel­ley Burd-Huss, Hous­ton

Mark Mul­li­gan / Hous­ton Chron­i­cle

Signs touts the new cam­pus of the High School for the Per­form­ing and Vis­ual Arts down­town.

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