COLLIER COUNTY — High school juniors who could be rezoned next year are hoping the Collier County School Board changes its policy Thursday.
The School Board will vote to grandfather rising juniors and seniors and allow them to remain at their current schools when that school is rezoned if they provide their own transportation.
The district’s policy currently allows only rising seniors to remain at their current schools when the school is rezoned.
According to the proposed revisions to the policy, all other students who are rezoned must attend their newly assigned schools and all new students must attend the zoned school or apply for school choice or out of zone.
Chief Operations Officer Michele LaBute has said about 180 students would be affected if every junior and senior currently at Gulf Coast high School decided to stay.
This is not the first time juniors have been allowed to stay at their home school. Board member Steve Donovan proposed the changes at the board’s January meeting, reminding the board that the district allowed rising juniors to stay in 2004 when Palmetto Ridge High School opened.
The vote comes as Collier elementary school parents could be getting some good news on rezoning.
Superintendent Dennis Thompson said this week that he is leaning toward a recommendation that will not rezone the district’s 1,039 students from 10 elementary schools to comply with the class size amendment.
Florida voters passed the class size amendment in 2002. The amendment, which was opposed by many school districts and then-Gov. Jeb Bush, requires Florida schools to have no more than 18, 22 or 25 students (depending on grade level) in core classes such as math or English. The maximum number of students in each class is determined by the age of the children, with class sizes for older students increasing.
Thompson said Monday the Legislature’s decision on class size could come too late for the district to make a decision on rezoning elementary school students. He said he is leaning toward not meeting the requirements and paying the fine.
“We have a hard time going forward when we don’t know what the decision is going to be,” he said. “And I have a hard time justifying a massive rezoning and hiring teachers only to let them go a year later.”
Thompson said the House is considering allowing districts to give schools a leeway of plus three to plus five students in classrooms, which the district can do within its current classrooms. But, he said, district officials have been told by their lobbyists that a decision on class size might not come until the end of the session, which is too late for the district.
When asked why the district was looking toward paying a fine now when it told parents it could not pay the fine months ago, board member Pat Carroll said there is a difference between ignoring the intent and doing the best the district can in uncertain times.
“We don’t know what the legislative requirements are going to be,” she said. “We’re working towards what we expect can be a realistic outcome and doing what we can to abide by the intent of the law.”
Thompson said he plans to make a recommendation to the board next month on its elementary school rezoning.
Connect with Collier education reporter Katherine Albers at www.naplesnews.com/staff/katherine-albers.