Island school districts extend school choice enrollment

Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, and Up-Island seek to accommodate Tisbury students

The Island School Committees met on Tuesday to discuss the extension of school choice - Lexi Pline

Island town school committees each decided at a meeting Tuesday to reopen their school choice program and extend it to Sept. 15.

School choice is a program that allows students to attend school outside their home district. Many committee members suggested extending the deadline to apply and be enrolled in school choice would allow students from the Tisbury School the opportunity to avoid being placed in the high school, or in the newer wing of the Tisbury School.

Because of the most recent studies conducted at the Tisbury School identifying chipping lead paint as a major issue, students will be relocated to off-campus facilities until modular classrooms can be established onsite.

Currently, students in kindergarten through fourth grade will be placed in the newer wing of the Tisbury School, which was constructed in 1993, well after regulations were in place banning lead paint. The area of the building where lead paint was found will be restricted for students. The Tisbury Emergency Services building will be used for lunch.

Students in grade 5 through 8 will be relocated to the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS), where they will occupy the 200 wing of the building.

There will be an orientation held in the MVRHS Performing Arts Center on Sept. 6. At the orientation, high school students will talk to parents about the school, and give tours of the campus. 

In an interview before the meeting, parent Sarah Burden York, who has a son in second grade and a daughter in fifth grade, said she wants some reassurances. “I completely trust the administration, but I will not let her walk into the [high] school until I have confidence in the way things will be managed. [My daughter] is 10 and tiny, going into a high school environment with 18-year-olds,” she said. “We’re resilient, and we’ll all do the best we can. I fully support the decision to close, but I’m distraught that this is where we are after the opportunity we had. The selectman said they had a plan, but a year and a half later, we have no plan and no school. We’re just now getting an OPM (owner’s project manager). Hopefully we’ll have a change in selectmen in the next couple of years.”

Because of the situation, D’Andrea said, multiple parents had requested that school choice be reopened. The policy surrounding school choice includes a deadline for applications between April 1 and June 15. On July 1, principals at each school will decide who will be accepted.

According to the policy, students must be enrolled by July 15. 

D’Andrea said parents argued that if they had known students would be relocated, they would have applied for school choice during the application period.

“I think it’s a good idea, and I recommend it,” D’Andrea said of reopening the application process.

According to D’Andrea, policies in up-Island schools are different from in down-Island schools. “Oak Bluffs says the maximum number of students allowed to enroll in school choice will be decided by the principal,” D’Andrea said. “Edgartown says the maximum number is 18.”

If one spot receives multiple applicants, the decision will be made by a lottery, D’Andrea said.

This time last year, D’Andrea said, some enrollments came in at the last minute from parents who got a late start, making it difficult to know how many open spots will be available in the near future.

As of now, D’Andrea said, “six or seven” parents have applied for school choice to various schools.

At a meeting later that night in Tisbury, school committee member Amy Houghton cautioned parents that spaces in other schools are limited.

Prior to the school choice policy being enacted, up-Island school committee member Robert Lionette said kids who moved to outside school districts were based on a tuition-per-year basis.

He suggested using a one-year tuition for the time students will be displaced. “Maybe we could make this not a permanent move, so families could return to the Tisbury School after this year?” Lionette asked.

He suggested Tisbury tuition could be reviewed annually, instead of using school choice.

Up-Island school committee member Kate DeVane said she is concerned that filling additional slots at the West Tisbury School with kids from school choice may be an issue when the students from Chilmark make their switch into elementary school.

“In three years, we might find ourselves in a situation where we have kids from school choice already, and Chilmark kids come and push us into multiple classrooms,” DeVane said.

West Tisbury School Principal Donna Lowell-Bettencourt reminded committee members that students don’t have to apply for school choice to return to their home school of Tisbury. 

“They can return whenever they want, even in the middle of the year,” Lowell-Bettencourt said.