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East County Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2019 8 months ago

As Manatee Schools approaches open school choice, parents still worry

Open enrollment for all ages opens Dec. 2, but joining siblings not a guarantee.
by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

As the 2020-2021 school year approaches, parents of incoming ninth graders headed to Lakewood Ranch High School to join their siblings might have to rethink their educational decisions.

The upcoming school year will be the first in which the School District of Manatee County will not automatically allow students to join their siblings who already are attending a school.

Don Sauer, with the district’s Office of Student Demographics, Projections and Assignment, said the change is meant to help the district better match school capacity with enrollment figures. Lakewood Ranch High is already more than 700 students over capacity.

“[Siblings] were still coming from outside of that zone,” Sauer said. “That guarantee has now been taken away, so we can try to get [student population] under control.”

Sauer said the restriction applies only to students who wish to attend a school in which they are not zoned.

“Every student zoned for a spot is guaranteed for a spot,” Sauer said.

Schools not over capacity can accept students from outside their zones.

The School District’s Open Choice period, which this year runs from Dec. 2-31 for upcoming kindergarten through 10th grade students, is the time at which parents can enroll their children at any school within the district, though some choices might require some extra effort.

Sauer said “choice” is mainly done geographically with clusters for different groups of schools. For example, parents of students at Gene Witt, Williams, Freedom and B.D. Gullett elementary schools are considered a “cluster.” If a parent from Freedom Elementary School wishes to enroll at Gene Witt, the district will provide transportation from a “hub” location.

Parents wishing to enroll at a school outside that cluster will apply for a “hardship” and must show there is a need to attend that school and also must provide their own transportation.

Parents of rising juniors and seniors also must apply for “hardship” to attend a different school, Sauer said. Choice is not available to those students.

Sauer said the choice process will now be offered completely online, and parents can apply at The process now requires parents to create or update their FOCUS Parent Portal account through the district’s website.

Sauer said the district is currently determining which schools will be open to choice during the upcoming 2020-2021 school year, and it will allow out-of-zone attendance as space allows.

Families will learn whether they have been granted “choice” in March.

Sauer said the district provides “choice” to a school if it is at less than 90% capacity. That allows the school to accommodate any new students zoned for that particular school.

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