About 400 parents and community members who believe North and South high schools are overcrowded have submitted a joint letter to the Central High School District Board of Education, urging action against a district policy that they believe allows parents to choose the school their children attend.
“It has gradually gotten to the point where North and South are bursting at the seams,” said Krista Testani, a North High School parent who drafted the six-page letter.
Testani wrote that the district’s waiver policy has led to “unintended consequences,” since, historically, most students waive out of Memorial Junior High School and Central High School into the buildings at North and South. The projected number of students who will waive out of Memorial in 2017-18 is about 120.
“We acknowledge that this technical issue regarding square footage and the student body count is a barometer by which the board monitors whether or not a school has officially become overcrowded, or has reached its maximum functional capacity,” Testani wrote. “But it is our hope that after you read this letter, you will examine this issue beyond that technical measure.”
Testani said she worked on the letter after speaking with fellow parents, students and teachers. The impact of reported overcrowding, as stated in the letter, is that resources — teachers, programs and advisers — are being pulled away from Memorial and Central, which affects the morale of those school communities. Additionally, the letter states that North and South high schools are strained by the lack of space. Testani said she spoke with teachers at North and South to verify this, and preserved their language in the letter to show that the issue affects more than just parents and students.
“There are several periods a day when there is not a single vacant classroom,” the letter says of the high schools. “This makes it so difficult and time-consuming to place students who are entitled to extended testing time into a quiet area to complete their tests while legally following their” Individualized Education Plans.
The letter also alleges that the issue has become a source of friction among parents, and that there is peer pressure to use the waiver policy to choose schools that are seen as more desirable.
At the July 11 Board of Education meeting, board President William Stris proposed the creation of a Citizens Advisory Committee to study the waiver policy, but stressed that this is “a very, very complicated issue. It’s not simple.”
Superintendent Bill Heidenreich said the letter was received in June, and that due to the nature of the query, the board would need to consult with its lawyers before taking any action at a public meeting. “So I don’t anticipate it being an agenda item in August or September, but by October that would be reasonable,” Heidenreich said.
The waiver policy, as currently written, does have provisions to deal with student populations approaching the buildings’ functional capacities: “All requests for waivers for students where their sibling(s) already attend that school shall be approved,” the policy states, “unless the total number of such requests exceeds the functional capacity of the building, in which case such waivers shall be approved to the extent permitted based upon lottery selection.”
A waiver request can be made only when a student is first eligible to attend school in the high school district, and must be submitted to the superintendent for review by Feb. 15 of the child’s sixth-grade year. For students registering from outside the Valley Stream districts, the waiver request must be made within 45 days of registration.
Testani, a former attorney, acknowledged that parents and school officials are likely preoccupied with other issues. “I’m not on the board, and I’m sure there’s a whole host of issues that I know nothing about,” she said, before adding that her goal was only for the board to do an expedient, thorough review of the policy’s impacts.