Open enrollment is drawing students back to PBC’s public schools

A mother walks into Galaxy Elementary School with her 3-year-old son. (Palm Beach Post file photo)

When Florida lawmakers decided last year to mandate open-enrollment policies in public schools across the state, the move prompted a fair bit of unease.

Among the worries of public school leaders: Would giving families more freedom to leave their local schools for campuses with extra space sow chaos?

But as Palm Beach County’s public school system prepares to start its first school year with open enrollment in place, district administrators say the program has been a boon, attracting at least 400 extra students into under-enrolled public schools from charters or private schools.

The open-enrollment program allows students to apply to enroll in any school with more than 10 percent of its seats empty. Bringing more students into under-enrolled schools is generally considered a plus because it makes them more efficient.

>>> RELATED: Your student didn’t get into a ‘choice’ program? There’s another option this year.

All told, 2,700 students applied this year for seats at 79 schools through the open-enrollment process, and a little more than 2,000 won seats. Of those, an estimated 400 to 500 – nearly a quarter – are expected to come from charter schools or private schools.

In other words, hundreds of students who had been in charter or private schools are either returning to district-operated schools or enrolling in them for the first time via the new open-enrollment program, district officials say.

The interest from parents outside the school district was a pleasant surprise to school district administrators, who weren’t sure how much interest the program would attract and how it would play out.

But it’s become clear that many parents view the program as a Plan B if their students don’t win a seat in a school choice (or “magnet”) program through the school district’s annual choice lottery.

>>> RELATED: These 79 PBC schools are accepting open-enrollment students

Students accepted through open enrollment won’t be able to take a school bus to school. And they won’t be eligible for any of the schools’ specialized choice programs.

But the new policy gives parents another set of options if they’re dissatisfied with their neighborhood school or think their child would be better off in a different one.

Peter Licata, the school district’s director of choice and career options, said parents applied for open-enrollment seats for “multiple reasons,” including some who were simply “unhappy with their local school.”

“We’ve had so many reasons why,” he said.

But while he said the program may benefit students, it is “inequitable” because parents can only take advantage if they are able to transport children on their own, meaning that many poorer families may not be able to take full advantage.

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Palm Beach County schools: Five stories this week you can’t miss

The St. Andrew's School in Boca Raton. (Greg Lovett / The Palm Beach Post)
The St. Andrew’s School in Boca Raton.
(Greg Lovett / The Palm Beach Post)

A lot happened in Palm Beach County schools this week, from an assistant principal accused by students of sexual harassment to a principal being removed from her position.

Here are the top five stories you need to read in education from this week:

  1. St. Andrew’s School: Worker’s ‘boundary breaches’ prompted sex abuse probe

    1. St. Andrew’s School, embroiled in controversy over a secretive sex abuse inquiry, revealed Thursday that one of its employees had “breached student boundary policies” but said it was unaware of any students who had been sexually abused.
  2. Students say Pahokee High assistant principal sexually harassed them
    1. An assistant principal at Pahokee Middle-Senior High School faces termination after accusations that he groped a female student and asked another one to send him pictures of her legs.
  3. Palm Beach Lakes High principal reassigned from school
    1. Embattled Palm Beach Lakes High School Principal Cheryl McKeever has been transferred from the school after a year of acrimonious battles between her and many of the school’s teachers.
  4. Palm Beach County educator embellishes record, gets top Pittsburgh job

    1. After 18 years as a Palm Beach County school administrator, Anthony Hamlet won the top job in Pittsburgh’s public school system last month with a resume boasting a series of successes at turning around struggling campuses. But some of Hamlet’s claims about his track record in the county’s schools appear to be misstatements or exaggerations, The Palm Beach Post has found.
  5. Report: Palm Beach County schools need $1.2 billion in “critical” repairs

    1. It will cost Palm Beach County’s public school system nearly $1.2 billion to make all of the “critical” repairs needed for its growing backlog of deteriorating buildings and equipment at 196 school facilities, a new school district report concludes.