Open enrollment vote pulled from school board agenda

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Duval County Superintendent Nikolai Vitti announced Monday he is withdrawing his plan to offer open enrollment to underutilized schools.

Vitti's plan would have allowed families to choose any school in the district they would like to have their children attend in an effort to keep parents from sending their students to charter or private schools.

Currently if people don't like their neighborhood school, they can send their children to a magnet school, but that only benefits academically or artistically gifted kids. An open enrollment policy would open school selection to anyone.

The proposal was scheduled for a School Board vote Tuesday, but at a news conference at West Jacksonville Elementary, Vitti said he was pulling it from the agenda.

The proposal had drawn criticism from some education advocates. 

"Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak. Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen," Vitti said in quoting Winston Churchill.

Several community pastors who attended Monday's announcement said they had been praying for Vitti to abandon the plan, concerned it could result in neighborhood schools closing and that parents who could not arrange transportation to the school of their choosing would not have the same options as others.

School board members applauded his his decision to delay the plan.

"Even when you look at it from a business and funding perspective, it's very difficult to maintain schools to be open and provide those quality opportunities if there is an extremely low enrollment, if there is under utilization," school board member Constance Hall said. "Listening to the community and being able to make a decision based on their feedback can only move us forward."

Vitti said he chose to make the announcement at Westside Elementary, one of the neighborhood schools the district is working to improve.

Vitti says he doesn't see the plan coming back up within the next few months, but that if and when it does, he wants to make sure the community agrees on the layout of the policy.

Hall said the next step is looking into why students are leaving the Duval County school system.

"Talking to parents, talking to students, finding out what we can do to better engage and hold on to our students that, for some reason, are leaving our school district," Hall said. "I think once we begin to solve that, then we will be able to move on to the next level."