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Hall County school district considers opening borders
Decision would allow district to enroll students from other counties
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The Hall County School District continues to contemplate opening all county schools not only to all students inside district lines, but those from other counties as well.

“Currently, we know that students can enroll in schools in their neighborhood,” Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Eloise Barron said. “They can apply to charter schools, or programs of choice. And with House Bill 251 that we open every summer on the space available, they can go to any other school that’s inside our district. But now we want to look at what the status is for all of our schools, and where would there be space? And then, what process would we use in order to invite and admit students from outside the district?”

School leaders and board members are considering it as an option, but as the system offers both charter schools and programs of choice alongside traditional schools, there would be some issues to address.

“A charter (school) actually gives us fewer options in terms of choice than a school of choice,” Superintendent Will Schofield said. “We’re bound by the state and federal guidelines (with those).”

There are also possible concerns over how programs of choice with limited seats would be treated in the application process. Barron used the Endless Possibilities in Creativity and Collaboration program of choice at East Hall High School as an example.

“Until we’re sure that everyone at that school, No. 1, has gone to that program who wants to go, and then do we open it up systemwide?” she asked. “And then would there ever be a time when everyone in the system has said ‘We’re in,’ then would there be seats later for everyone outside of the district?

“But outside of that special program is there a general program in East Hall High School where other students might want to and be able to apply?” she added.

Other questions include how many times a year applications would be accepted, and just when students from outside the areas the district serves would be able to apply. Those students would be accepted on a space-available basis, and also would be required to pay tuition while any student already inside the district would not pay tuition.

“If we’re going to try to get ready for the next school year, we are going to have these decisions made and get some legal opinion about how we can word some of the pieces that we would need to put into an application,” Barron said.

Schofield said that in some cases, like at Flowery Branch High School, which is already at capacity, the idea of opening it up for outside applications isn’t really on the table.

“What we’re really talking about is ... we have a handful of our remaining schools that there has been no choice but there is some room, wouldn’t it make some sense ... to open it up to anybody in this district that says ‘You know what? I work in Banks County and I drive right by Lula Elementary school, and it’s a real hardship for me to try to send my child to school at Friendship Elementary on the opposite end of the county. Why can’t my child go to Lula?’” Schofield said, posing a hypothetical scenario. “And what we’re saying is ‘You can. We have space, we would love to make that happen for you.’”

Though not set in stone, the idea is to use the 2014-15 school year as a pilot year for offering universal choice. Board of education members are considering various options and are expected to make a final decision at a future meeting.

“There’s a lot of little questions that we have to answer, but we don’t need to make it more complicated than it really is, either,” Schofield added.

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