PLAQUEMINE — The Iberville Parish School Board on Monday night approved the district’s school choice policy, which sets the standards by which students enrolled in Iberville schools with poor academic performance can transfer to better schools within the parish.
The board’s 8-1 vote comes a year after the state Legislature adopted Act 853, which mandates local districts give students more options at getting a quality education.
School districts’ local polices are supposed to outline how districts will manage transfer requests in regards to athletic eligibility, transportation needs and school capacity stipulations.
“There were a lot of questions and concerns last year to do this with the way it was worded,” Brandie Blanchard, the district’s human resources and policy supervisor, explained to the board Monday night.
Blanchard said the district was awaiting a legal opinion from the state Attorney General’s Office. Many districts, she said, were unsure which annual scores from the Louisiana Department of Education were to be used in the 2014-15 school term since the state releases new performance scores every October — two months after school was already in session.
Act 853 gives parents the option to pull their children from any public school that received a D or F grade in the Department of Education’s annual School Performance Report.
The law gives parents the latitude to transfer their kids to a higher-performing school within their respective districts without regard to residential school system geographic boundaries or attendance boundaries.
The school choice law was adopted during the 2014 legislative session, taking effect in the 2014-15 school year.
During the inaugural year of its implementation, none of Iberville’s seven schools were graded poorly in the Department of Education’s 2013 report.
But when new scores were released in October 2014, Iberville Elementary and White Castle High both received D grades.
According to a memo the administration sent to board members July 27, since school had already been in session for two months when the 2014 scores were released, the board was not presented with the a proposed school transfer policy because the administration wanted to avoid confusion with students and teachers transferring to different schools after Oct. 1.
The administration’s policy received criticism from board President Darlene Ourso, the lone dissenting vote, who felt the district’s two unique Math, Science and Arts academies allowed the school district to pervert the intent of the Act 853.
Iberville Math, Science and Arts academies, located in Plaquemine and St. Gabriel, are programs — not actually standalone schools — where higher-achieving students throughout the parish are selected through a lottery process.
The annual standardized test scores for students at the two academies are rolled into the test scores of the local schools those students would otherwise have attended.
“We know some of our schools have elevated scores because of the MSA scores trickling in,” she said. “Every kid at MSA that’s supposed to be at White Castle will say they want their grades to go to Plaquemine High now.”
“How is (White Castle) going to dig itself out of a hole?” she asked. “They could really be an F school next year when the MSA scores aren’t factored in.”
Board member Pam George later said, “We have to follow the law. We have to put policy in place to reflect the law.”
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