Members of the Oklahoma City Public School Board inspired reactions of surprise, confusion, frustration, and anger from students, parents, and teachers at the May 6, 2013, regular board meeting. Board members approved out-of-district open transfers for students applying to attend Oklahoma City charter schools including Harding Fine Arts Charter School, Dove Science Academy, and Independence Charter Middle School, but voted unanimously (8-0) to deny open transfer requests for eight students to ClassenSAS. ClassenSAS staff had previously notified approximately 50 parents and applying students of their acceptance to the school, but only eight of those families submitted student open transfer requests as required by the district and were considered for transfer during the May 6 board meeting. Many parents and others have expressed confusion and concern about these events.
The audio recording of the entire board meeting was posted to SoundCloud by representatives of The Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools, and is available for people to listen to in its entirety. Discussion about open transfers begins at 1:12:31 of the recording. The audio recording of this discussion of open transfers during the meeting was amplified and posted separately to SoundCloud.
A 20 page PDF file, also posted online by the Foundation of OKCPS, includes the complete ClassenSAS student application packet for 2013-2014 as well as the OKCPS district transfer policy.
Issues raised at the May 6th meeting of both interest and concern include:
- Board action to change the admissions policy of ClassenSAS, and single out ClassenSAS open transfer requests and treat them differently than those for other OKCPS schools
- Board member actions which contravened existing board policy regarding open transfers in three different ways
- Board member misunderstanding of current admissions policies and procedures for ClassenSAS
The purpose of this article is to highlight and clarify these issues and events.
Discriminatory Treatment of ClassenSAS Open Transfers
“Open Transfers” were listed under “Special Business” on the agenda for the May 6th OKCPS School Board Meeting. This action broke with past Board actions prior to 2012 when all open transfer requests into the district have been accepted together in an omnibus motion.
It is important to note open transfers are common every year in Oklahoma City, to multiple schools in the district in addition to ClassenSAS. The May 14, 2013, editorial in the Daily Oklahoman, “Questions linger following Oklahoma City school district transfer flap,” reported:
Transfers aren’t a new discussion [in Oklahoma City Public Schools]… Classen isn’t the only school that accepts transfers. District reports show that more than 1,000 students transferred into the district last school year at a variety of grade levels. Of the transfers considered last week, only Classen’s were denied.
OKCPS board policy regarding open transfers to the district do not include directives for board members to discriminate in granting transfers based on the requested campus. In addition, there is no precedent in this history of OKCPS for open transfers to only a single campus to be categorically denied. With the exception of the entering class of 2011-2012 at ClassenSAS, in which transfer students from out-of-district were prohibited by a verbal directive from district administrators based on contraints imposted by MAPS renovations, the policy of OKCPS and ClassenSAS has been to openly solicit transfer students from outside the district. This has been true since the school was founded in 1992. Even during the 2011-2012 school year, some out-of-district transfer students were admitted to ClassenSAS with Board approval.
The OKCPS board has not previously established a policy about denying transfer requests to specific schools for any reason. At the May 6th meeting, however, OKCPS Deputy Superintendent Sandra Park stated:
There are eight requests for open transfer [to ClassenSAS this year]. There have been approximately fifty, rather than the number I gave you, you got bad data on Thursday, there have been approximately fifty out-of-district requests that have met the criteria. We met with the principal [of ClassenSAS] today, there is a clear understanding that we will not take out-of-district transfers into Classen any longer. We will not ask the students, there are 231 students currently in Classen that live out of district. We will not ask those students to leave the district, they will remain, because they were there on good faith. They were allowed in, so we don’t feel like we should disrupt those families and ask them to go back to their home districts. But we have a very clear understanding with our principal that ClassenSAS is for in-district students, and she will no longer allow students out-of-district to transfer in-district to Classen.
These statements by Park at the May 6 board meeting represent a significant change in OKCPS board policy and would historically change the admissions process for ClassenSAS. This discriminatory treatment of ClassenSAS by the school board in denying open transfers from out-of-district students, while the board approved open transfers from students to OKCPS campuses like Harding Fine Arts Charter School, Dove Science Academy, and Independence Charter Middle School, has not been open to public discussion or debate. At the board meeting, it was stated 215 out-of-district applications for open transfers into OKCPS schools were received. At the May 6 meeting, 207 of those open transfer requests were approved. The only 8 which were denied were to ClassenSAS, even though some of those denials violated existing board policy.
Violations of Existing Board Policy
Section J-08 of Oklahoma City Public School’s policies governs open transfers of students. This policy was originally adopted on October 3, 2005, and last revised on August 6, 2012. This policy is included in the 20 page PDF file uploaded by the OKCPS Foundation, and starts on page 12. The three specific provisions which board members violated on May 6 include:
- Failing to treat open transfer applicants with current siblings at an OKCPS school as “in district”
- Failing to treat children of OKCPS employees residing outside the district as “in district”
- Discussing the details of open transfer requests in open session rather than in executive session
Page 1 of section J-08 addresses transfers of students with siblings currently in OKCPS:
Students from outside the Oklahoma City Public School District, who wish to attend an Oklahoma City Public School will be considered for enrollment only after it is determined that no additional eligible students, from within the Oklahoma City Public School District have applied, provided however, applicant siblings of non-resident students who are already attending Oklahoma City Public Schools shall be considered for enrollment as if they were residents of the District.
Page 3 of section J-08 addresses transfers of students who are children of OKCPS employees:
A student shall be allowed to transfer to a school district in which a parent or legal guardian of the student is employed as a teacher, as defined by 70 O.S. 1-116, upon approval of the receiving district only.
Page 2 of section J-08 addresses the need for the Board to review transfer applications in executive, rather than open session:
No later than June 1 of the same year, the receiving school district shall approve or deny applications for transfer. The Board of Education shall vote to approve or deny the applications for open transfers. Transfer applications shall be reviewed by the Board of Education in executive session in order to protect the confidentiality of student records. The vote to approve or deny the applications for transfer will take place in open session. The District shall notify the parent(s) of the student (s) of the decision.
Each of these three board policies was violated in the May 6 meeting.
Board Member Misconceptions about the ClassenSAS Application Process
Some OKCPS board members spoke out to the media following the May 6th meeting and also posted commentary on social media websites, including Facebook. In the May 8, 2013 article by KFOR, “OKC school board denies Classen SAS transfers,” reporter Sarah Stewart quoted newly elected OKCPS District 1 representative Bob Hammack.
“I’m sorry, life’s not always fair,” Hammack said. “This was a decision that we as a board felt was not administered properly. We wish that it had of but the rules say these transfers will come to the board. We looked at the evidence and thought it was a bad idea.” Even though they only denied the transfers to Classen, Hammack said that will probably expand. “We have brilliant kids all across the Oklahoma City public school system and if those kids are not allowed to go to Classen because those seats are taken by out-of-district students, that’s wrong,” Hammack said.
Hammack’s comments specifically highlight some of his misconceptions and misunderstanding about ClassenSAS and the student application process. Students living within the OKCPS district boundaries are and have been given priority for admission into ClassenSAS. In some cases, however, OKCPS students have not applied for admission or have not been qualified for admission to ClassenSAS. Hammack’s comment to KFOR on May 8 suggests his belief that by denying the open transfer requests of only out-of-district students to ClassenSAS, in-district students would be permitted to take those spots. That is not the case, however, because of the OKCPS School board approved (and overseen) application process used for new students at ClassenSAS.
The application process for incoming 2013-2014 sixth graders (and students in other grades) at ClassenSAS started in December 2012, and continued in January with multi-hour academic tests as well as fine arts tryouts / auditions. This year, approximately fifty out-of-district students received congratulatory letters from a ClassenSAS vice-principal in March confirming their acceptance into the school for the upcoming academic year. Parents subsequently wrote checks for students to attend an upcoming “Camp Comet” orientation session, and those checks were cashed by district officials. Several of the applying students did submit district paperwork (available electronically on the district website) to obtain an open transfer, but not all. According to Kym Tucker, parent of an out-of-district applying student to ClassenSAS quoted in the May 9th News9 article, “Parents: Students Accepted Into OKC School, Then Denied Enrollment,”
“We were never told that [student acceptance for admission was tentative pending board approval], we don’t have anything in writing that says that, so we weren’t able to set our children up for that disappointment,” Tucker said. The acceptance letter gives no indication that the decision wasn’t a done deal. It gives the enrollment date, and time, and asks students to bring a birth certificate and immunization records. “Why did we receive a letter, why did we enroll,” Tucker said.
The approximately fifty “accepted” out-of-district students and parents were therefore shocked when their transfer requests were rejected or not considered by the OKCPS School Board on May 6th.
Hammack’s comments quoted in the May 8th KFOR article apparently reflect a decision by the OKCPS school board to punish parents and students who applied for admission in good faith rather than address internal issues, policies and procedures regarding ClassenSAS admissions. This mistaken approach was highlighted in the May 14th Daily Oklahoman editorial, which observed:
School board members and administrators should admit the students who applied and who were accepted in good faith. One board member’s “life isn’t fair” attitude is beneath what the community should expect to hear from a public official when children are asked to pay the price for the mistakes of adults.
ClassenSAS was established in 1992 as a “magnet school” along with Cleveland Elementary School. At other times, school board members have created “special schools” in the district which have unique programs and staffing needs. The fall 2012 OKCPS application for federal “Race to the Top” grant funds identifies the goal of establishing “special academies” at each of the secondary schools in the district to both engage students and meet community educational needs. The abrupt, unanimous decision of the OKCPS board on May 6th to reject only open transfer requests to ClassenSAS may reflect misunderstanding, on the part of multiple board members, about the application processes in place and priority which is given in the application process to in-district OKCPS students.
Classen School of Advanced Studies in Oklahoma City Public Schools continues to be lauded as “the premier school of its kind in the state of Oklahoma.” In addition to academic honors in multiple categories, ClassenSAS students lead the district each year in the total number of scholarship dollars awarded to graduating seniors. As an urban school district, OKCPS faces many challenges. The availability of a special grade 6-12 school like ClassenSAS, which offers the International Baccalaureate program as well as a variety of fine arts majors and programs, and is open for ANY student in the district to apply for and attend, is wonderful. It is incumbent upon us, the parents, students, and staff of ClassenSAS, to continue to clearly communicate the value and importance of the educational opportunities provided at our school to hundreds of students in our district and some outside of our district.
To avoid situations like the May 6th board meeting, school board members and district officials should:
- Ensure district administration has CLEARLY communicated with school admin & school community any policies affecting them PRIOR to board enforcement of said “policies”. Superintendent Karl Springer‘s statement during the May 6th Board Meeting that “We’ve just received new information in the last few hours” is indicative of the need for prior, clear communication about policy issues in advance of board meetings.
- Strive to provide transparency in any investigation regarding district policies when questions arise.
I encourage parents, students and staff of ClassenSAS to directly contact elected OKCPS board members and share suggestions and ideas regarding the issues raised at the May 6th school board meeting. A special OKCPS Board meeting has been called for Tuesday, May 28 at 5:30 pm, to address these issues among others.
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