When the Harford County Board of Education redraws elementary school attendance boundaries, what will happen to students seeking boundary exceptions?
Changes to attendance boundaries are planned for next year to relieve overcrowding and to balance enrollment among the county’s 33 elementary schools. Complicating the redistricting effort will be boundary exceptions, which allow students to attend a county school outside their home district.
Boundary exceptions are granted by HCPS for qualifying reasons that include childcare arrangements and family or personal hardship. When granted, boundary exceptions are good for one year, and approval in one school year is no guarantee of approval the next. Parents must supply their own transportation to the receiving school or to the nearest bus stop serving the school.
According to HCPS administrative guidelines, boundary exceptions are generally limited when a receiving school is at or above 95% of capacity, or when grade-level class size standards have been exceeded. If redistricting is successful in relieving overcrowding, some schools that had been closed to boundary exceptions may open up, but only until the enrollment limits set forth in the guidelines are reached.
On the other hand, boundary exceptions granted as a benefit to HCPS employees are not limited by enrollment at the receiving school. So while redistricting may reduce enrollment at overcrowded schools, employee boundary exceptions can work in the opposite direction.
Highlighting boundary exceptions as a “critical” issue for school board members to address, the Superintendent’s Technical Advisory Committee has outlined potential changes for consideration. Such changes include suspending boundary exceptions for next year and the year after, allowing liberal implementation of boundary exceptions, and making some adjustments to the current criteria.
Overall, 914 elementary students were granted boundary exceptions as of November 30, 2010, or just over 5% of the elementary school population. The majority of exceptions were granted to accommodate parents’ childcare arrangements; 203 exceptions were granted to HCPS employees.
The following chart outlines the number of children moving to and from each elementary school due to boundary exceptions, and the number of exceptions granted for each qualifying reason:
Special programs housed at some elementary schools will also impact redistricting, as students are drawn to those programs from other county schools. The largest special programs by far are for pre-kindergarten and early intervention. Of the 853 students attending special programs this year, 312 do so in a school other than their home district.
While the impact of special programs has been factored into the enrollment figures in the latest redistricting draft, the following chart outlines the specific HCPS elementary schools with special programs and the number of in-district, and out-of-district students at each school.