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Board kicking around idea of relaxing school boundaries

by Stacey Colwell

 COUNTY - The South Shore Regional School Board may chew over the concept of open school boundaries.

 "The question is, if a family prefers for their child to attend a school and they are willing to transport them, why not?" said superintendent Nancy Pynch-Worthylake.

 The answer is, at least in part, the long-term viability of small rural schools.

 "There's some tension, perhaps, between support for small rural schools and open boundaries."

 For example, would students leave smaller schools to go to larger ones or vice versa?

 "I would think there would be some concern on the part of families at smaller schools."

 Currently, unless applying for a regional program such as International Baccalaureate (IB), students have to file for a formal transfer.

 "If this [change] were to happen, you wouldn't have to apply for a transfer, you'd just have to register at a different school."

 That raises the issue of when families would have to register their children if boundaries were to open.

 "Would it be when a child registers for Primary? Would it be for every September? If it were every September, staffing and programming would become very difficult."

 For example, determining how many staff are required and how many programs could be offered would be challenging.

 The open boundaries concept was raised during a recent review of the board's student transfer policy, when some members wondered aloud whether school boundaries were necessary at all.

 Ms Pynch-Worthylake acknowledged some education critics have lobbied the province to make that change, which is something that is practiced in Edmonton.

 "But they haven't considered that in Edmonton, a student anywhere in the city can get on a public transit bus and go to any school. I don't know how we could have magnet schools and open boundaries in Nova Scotia. The geography and the number of students makes no sense."

 Removing boundaries but not providing transportation for students outside their school catchment areas is a possibility, however.

 "That's the only option ... in a practical sense."

 She said the issue is expected to be discussed at an upcoming informal work session, after which the board would decide whether or not to consider it more formally.

 "That's what good boards do. That's why you have work sessions. Effective boards say, 'Here's an idea, what about this - it's not ready for formal debate, but are we interested in this and would it make sense?'"

 The Department of Education's acting director of communications said there is nothing in the Education Act to prevent the board from allowing open boundaries.

 "The practice has been that each board develop their own guidelines around boundaries," said Peter McLaughlin.

 "My understanding is that some boards have regional access to programs, such as French immersion and IB, although their policies indicate that transportation is the parent's responsibility."

posted on 01/11/11
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