Duval County students possibly given school choice

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Duval County is planning to open up school choice by affording all students in the district a chance to attend any school. The proposal is still being refined, but Superintendent Nikolai Vitti would like the board to vote on the plan on April 1 so it could be implemented starting in May.

"I think have to adapt or be extinct," said Vitti to board members who met on Thursday to discuss in more detail the sweeping change that is envisioned.

Open enrollment would allow students to select a school other than the neighborhood school they attend. The change would not impact the magnet school program already in place.

Some school board members expressed concern that inner city neighborhoods could eventually lose their schools if too many parents exercise the school choice option.

"Can we slow down a little...I don't think need to rush," commented board member Paula Wright during discussions. She believes open enrollment would hurt neighborhoods already struggling.

Students who decide to choose another school would not be guaranteed enrollment if the school was already at capacity. The school district is not planning to offer transportation for a new school choice. However, students would be able to use the current bus system.

"Most of these children walk to school," said Pastor Houston White who ministers across the street from West Jacksonville Elementary. The school is small with an enrollment of 287 students.

"Transportation will be a major issue... how will they get there," said White.

Meia and James Sampson are parents of a 1st grader, Jay Sampson, at Rufus Payne Elementary. They are also both proud alums of Ribault High.

"I think it should be up to the school board to have transportation provided to those who can't get their children across town," said Meia Sampson.

James, who is in favor of giving parents a choice, says, "I do believe it will be better for some kids to leave their neighborhoods to escape certain stereotypes and not become a statistic."

School board member Jason Fischer is on board with open enrollment.

"We should be able to choose our child's education just like everything else in our lives," said Fischer.

Vitti says for next year's budget he's proposing something that has never been done before. DCPS would offer a high level incentive of $20,000 for the best principals to go to low performing and under enrolled schools.


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