Even though the 2023-2024 school year is not yet half over, a critical deadline looms for the 2024-2025 school year. School boards intending to limit the number of open enrollment spaces available in their schools, grades, classes, programs, and services for the 2024-2025 school year must adopt those limitations during a board meeting in January 2024. Thus, school districts should begin assessing their space limitations now.
As a first step to establishing space limitations, administrators should review their applicable Board policy to ensure that the language authorizes the school board to deny open enrollment applications based on space availability. Administrators should also note whether the Board policy guarantees approval for currently attending students and/or currently attending students’ siblings or gives the Board discretion on granting guarantees each school year.
By statute, currently attending students and the siblings of currently attending students must be given preference for available open enrollment spaces. However, a school board may guarantee acceptance for those students by Board policy or Board action at the January Board meeting. If the Board grants guarantees, the District may not reject open enrollment applications by currently attending students or siblings of currently attending students based on space availability.
After reviewing the applicable Board policy, administrators should review the capacity of the school district’s schools, grades, and classes, as well as the capacity of the school district’s special education programs and services currently offered. Ordinarily, administrators determine the available space by considering factors, such as class size limits, student-staff ratios, staff caseloads, and projected enrollment. Again, the school district’s Board policy should identify the criteria the administration will use to determine available space.
Regarding special education programs and services, administrators should identify all of the special education services and programs currently available in the school district. Special education programs and services the school district cannot provide to nonresident students utilizing existing school district staff are considered unavailable in the school district. For example, services the school district provides by contract with a third-party, such as a local Cooperative Educational Service Agency (CESA), are unavailable. Further, services the school district cannot provide without hiring additional staff are also unavailable. It does not matter whether the school district provides the same program or service to resident students.
School districts are not required to specify which programs or services are unavailable in the school district or set space limitations for unavailable programs and services. After identifying all of the available special education programs and services, administrators can assess the school district’s capacity in each. For most programs and services, administrators should consider the special education providers’ caseload to determine available space.
Parents and students may appeal a school district’s denial of an open enrollment application based on program or service unavailability or lack of available space to DPI. Generally, DPI will uphold a school district’s space determinations provided the Board adopted them at a January Board meeting and they are not arbitrary or capricious. Thus, it is important to document the Administration’s basis for recommending space limitations and the Board’s action to adopt the recommendation with or without modifications. With the holiday season upon us, January and its Board meeting will be here before we know it. School districts should start assessing their general education and special education space limitations now to ensure the Board has appropriate rationale supporting any recommended space limitations and is ready to adopt them in January.
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