Law prompts some schools to end open enrollment

A new Indiana law that prevents public schools from turning away transfer students with poor grades or disciplinary problems has prompted some districts to end their open enrollment policies.

Lawmakers passed the law after hearing from educators and students who said some schools were accepting only the brightest transfer students or rejecting children with disciplinary problems.

The new law, which took effect in July, prevents schools that accept students from outside the district's borders from denying a student's transfer request for any reason other than school capacity. That means students with poor grades, low test scores or behavior issues must be accepted.

The change has prompted some districts to halt their open enrollment, while others are staying the course because open enrollment is one of the few ways some districts can grow.

Munster Superintendent Richard Sopko announced over the summer that the district would no longer would transfer students, saying the new state law took away "local control."

The district had required transfer students to have a B average, have passed ISTEP-Plus and not have any major discipline problems.

Another northern Indiana district, Highland Schools, also decided to end open enrollment.

"I think the lawmakers decided they were not going to allow public schools to cherry-pick — yet that's exactly what private schools do," Superintendent Brian Smith told The Times of Munster ( ).

Indiana's public schools are facing continued competition as a result of the expansion of school choice options. Hoosier families can use a state school voucher to send their children to a private school using public tax dollars. Or they can send them to one of the state's public charter schools, which operate with fewer restrictions and more flexibility than a traditional public school.

Whiting's School Board approved an open enrollment policy four years ago to boost enrollment after a state law called for school districts with fewer than 1,000 students be consolidated with another district in the same county. Whiting Superintendent Sandra Martinez said the district plans to continue its open enrollment policy.

Walter Watkins, the superintendent of School City of Hammond, said the district has been losing about 100 students a year for the past couple of years and will continue with open enrollment. He said this year the district is estimated to lose about 135 students from its current enrollment of 13,100 students.

The Metropolitan School District of Boone Township in Hebron, which depends on transfer students to grow the district, has 85 transfer students, Superintendent George Letz said.

"We're following the law and showing capacity. We do look at the student's discipline record, but we are fulfilling the requirements of the new legislation," he said.

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