During the first week of school, Heather Ferenc’s fifth-grade daughter stares out her window, watching the other children from the neighborhood walk to Longfellow Elementary. Hanging in her closet, there are several pairs of school uniforms with their tags still attached.
Currently, Ferenc’s daughter is being homeschooled, because Longfellow Elementary is impacted, and there are no more open spots for students. And Heather Ferenc couldn’t be more upset and frustrated with the Long Beach Unified School District that her daughter couldn’t find a spot at her neighborhood school. In July, the Ferencs moved to Long Beach from Santa Ana to have their children attend Longfellow Elementary.
“We were pretty hopeful that we would be accepted,” Heather Ferenc said. But what the Ferencs found was that attending school wouldn’t be so easy.
After attempting to register her daughter before school started, Heather Ferenc was informed by a school official that her daughter was put on an overflow list; 1st, 3rd, and 5th grades were impacted. According to Ferenc, she was told that the school would call her when a spot became available for her daughter, but if she didn’t hear back, just bring her daughter to school on the first day.
So the Ferencs and their daughter showed up on the first day, only to find that their daughter still didn’t have a classroom. “They had all these kids who couldn’t be placed in a classroom,” Ferenc says, “and they have them all sitting in the library with a substitute teacher.”
While Chris Eftychiou, director of public information at LBUSD, says that the teacher was credentialed and that the library is technically considered a classroom, Ferenc still found it unacceptable. There were no nametags, no white boards, just parents and 27 children sitting around circular tables. Ferenc took her daughter out of the library because she didn’t believe that on the first day of school the library was a proper learning environment.
“There were a few parents that were upset, but most people were just really quiet and a little confused,” Ferenc said.
Ferenc is a former elementary school teacher and a former employee of Anaheim Unified School District, and she has never heard of putting children into the library on the first day of school. Ferenc complained to Longfellow’s Principal Laurie Murrin and she was informed that there was just no space available at Longfellow Elementary. According to Ferenc, Principal Murrin suggested Riley in Lakewood. But with no transportation offered by the district, only one car in the family and Riley a good two-and-a-half mile walk down Carson Blvd. from their new home, Ferenc found the option unacceptable.
“We probably paid a 100,000 more for a house in this neighborhood,” Ferenc says, “so we wouldn’t have to be dealing with an underperforming school.”
“The school district makes every effort to place students at their neighborhood school when that is the parents’ first choice,” Chris Eftychiou said of Ferenc’s situation. “However, we are not always able to accommodate that first choice. Students who move into the neighborhood are accommodated on a first-come, first-serve basis at the local school until the school is full.”
Ferenc is still upset because she believes her daughter should be granted access to the school before Schools of Choice students—those who submit applications to enroll in schools outside of their neighborhood. According to Ferenc, the Anaheim School District does not notify open enrollment applicants until all of the local students have been processed, sometimes not until the first day of school. At LBUSD, however, School of Choice applicants are notified of acceptance prior to the new academic year and it seems with little consideration for families, like the Ferenc’s, that may move into the neighborhood over the summer.
“We assumed that when you’re assigned to a local elementary school, that’s where you go,” Ferenc said. “I’ve never heard of anyone being turned away from their assigned school.”
Though School of Choice numbers were not available for Longfellow or other elementary schools in the district, in response to the issues that Ferenc is dealing with and the question of whether or not Schools of Choice students were accepted prior to neighborhood students, Eftychiou said, “Our schools cannot displace already-enrolled students to make room for a new student. Most students enroll well before the school year starts, so it’s usually the late enrollments that can cause delays in student placement.”
So do neighborhood children get first priority in LBUSD? The District isn’t even sure. “In general,” says the District’s information on School of Choice policies. “When a school is overcrowded, however, neighborhood children may have to attend another school.” But LBUSD’s Guidelines for Parents and Students says differently: “Students who live in the attendance area of a school must be given priority to attend that school over students who do not live in the school’s attendance area.”
And the recent situation at Longfellow Elementary brings up many other questions. Are the schools in Long Beach overcrowded? How have the closings of DeMille Elementary, Keller Elementary and Butler Middle affected enrollment numbers elsewhere? And while School of Choice provides opportunities for underprivileged students to receive a better education, should those students have priority over students who live in the neighborhood if the school is impacted?
In November of 2008, voters approved Measure K, which makes available $1.2 billion from property taxes to build, renovate, and improve schools in the Long Beach Unified School District. Currently, there are several projects under construction. As part of the Measure K resolution, Nelson Academy, a middle school, was opened this year to accommodate nearly 1000 students.
There are also several elementary schools that are impacted, according to preliminary calls made to their individual offices. In the 2011-2012 school year, Longfellow enrollment increased by 196 students. However, despite requests, the school district has not released the statistics of these impacted schools or the schools that are accepting overflow students. Each individual school provides a list of students on overflow, a sort of waiting list, to the district. Then the district assigns the students a school.
“On the first day of school, Sept 5, there were 27 students in the library,” Eftychiou said of Longfellow. “Nine of those students were placed at Longfellow. The 18 remaining students became overflow and were offered placements by Sept 7.”
Eftychiou said that the students from Longfellow were offered space at Riley, Gant, and Bixby Elementary School. The Ferenc’s have still not been offered a space at Longfellow.
“I just wanted to bring awareness about it,” Ferenc says of how them moving mid-summer has affected her daughter’s ability to attend theneighborhood school. “Whatever policy is in place obviously isn’t working. I would just really like to change that.”
It’s the middle of September, and Ferenc’s daughter is still being homeschooled. She says she will most likely homeschool her for the entire year and try to enroll her in the neighborhood middle school when she starts 6th grade next year. Though her daughter is lucky to have an active family with previous homeschool experience, Ferenc worries that other families who might end up in a similar situation won’t be able to accommodate the District’s placement issues.
“She was really looking forward to starting at a new school and making new friends,” Ferenc says. “I think it’s really tragic when kids miss that first day… now we’re talking about missing the first couple of weeks or even the whole year… I think that’s a huge disadvantage.”
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