JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Duval County School Board members met with Superintendent Nikolai Vitti on Thursday to discuss his proposed open enrollment plan that would allow parents to send their child to any school in the district, no matter where they live.
Board members seemed to agree the idea has its benefits, but they also see some drawbacks.
Everyone agreed that giving parents more options for their child's education is always a good thing. But from not providing adequate transportation to complicating the diversity issue in Jacksonville schools, each board member expressed concerns with the potential program.
"An unintended consequence is we're going to end up closing schools because parents could," board member Paula Wright said. "In fact, we could eradicate or remove students from one school to such a degree that we won't have a choice."
Vitti said he doesn't intend on closing any schools in the coming years, and the plan provides families with more options.
"They're allowed to go to another boundary school if, a) They ride on an existing transportation line that exists through our boundaries or our magnet line, or the parents pay for transportation or transports the child to school," Vitti said.
Transportation is a part of the plan many board members are worried about. Wright is concerned some parents will miss out on an opportunity for their children because they simply can't afford the transportation.
Also, Vitti said right now it's too soon too consider and also it's not in the budget, but he will at least look into numbers to possibly go over in the future.
Another concern that came up was diversity. Vitti said the program will bring diversity from the urban core to the suburban areas, but Wright said board members want diversity both ways.
"You're going to see, unfortunately, African-Americans going to different schools possibly because of the school grades, but you won't see anyone coming to the low-performing schools for the obvious reasons," Wright said.
Wright said a way to fix that is to allow the recent programs Vitti has implemented to have some time to build a strong foundation for the schools that are struggling. Then those schools will be more competitive, which she said will be the ideal time for open enrollment.
"It's not that I'm against open enrollment, I just feel that in order for all students to have an opportunity for a strong quality school in their community, we need to be certain every school is on the same level and playing field," Wright said.
As of now, the school board is set to vote on the open enrollment program April 1.