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School system seeks OK for out-of-district IB students
Decatur files motion requesting U.S. District Court's permission

By Bayne Hughes
hughes@decaturdaily.com 340-2432

Attorney Rusty Gibson filed a motion Monday asking the U.S. District Court in Birmingham to give Decatur City Schools permission to accept out-of-district students into the International Baccalaureate Program.

According to the motion, the school system would accept up to 80 students, with each paying an annual tuition of $1,000. This doesn't include the IB Diploma Program fees, which Superintendent Sam Houston estimates are about $600 per student. Fees cover the six IB-required tests to earn a Diploma Program.

The motion states the school system has the Diploma honors program for juniors and seniors and is starting the IB Middle Years Program, a general education program for grades six-10. The motion is not clear about whether students would be accepted for both programs.

Houston agreed the issue is not clear. He said school officials wanted to open the Diploma Program to out-of-district students to put the program on a more stable financial footing.

In the inaugural year of the Diploma Program last year, Decatur High had 10 students and Austin had three. Decatur's junior numbers rose to 20 this year and Austin jumped to 17, according to the schools' IB coordinators.

School officials decided to seek permission last spring to bring in out-of-district students, but Houston said they wanted to go to the court in agreement with plaintiffs' attorney Stanley Gray and the U.S. Department of Justice.

Summer negotiations did not conclude, however, until almost a month into the school year that began Aug. 10. The school board agreed in the motion to:

  • Try to increase minority enrollment to a level consistent with minority enrollment in the school district, which is about 15 percent.

  • Not accept transfers if that would impact the level of desegregation for in-district children or a reduction in the participation rate (last year the rate was 15 percent).

  • Out-of-district applicants would not be accepted if it adversely impacts the desegregation level of the sending school.

  • The school system would only accept out-of-district students until in-district students fill those 80 slots.

    Houston said he wishes they could have reached an agreement before the start of the school year.

    Houston said the school attorney worked to reach a consensus. "All of the parties came to an agreement, and then we took the motion to court."

    The school board must now await the court's permission while setting guidelines for entrance into the Diploma Program, including how to decide whether a student would attend Austin or Decatur high schools.

    The IB coordinators, Austin's Susan Giguere and Decatur's Kim Qualls, agreed that time is short, but it's not too late for new students to join. They said that six weeks would probably be the maximum time a student could enter the program behind and be able to make up the missed work.

    "They could do it," Giguere said. "But they would have to do it pretty soon because the six weeks is almost up. A lot of how much they would have to make up would be up to their teachers."

    Both said the students would have to make up summer reading. Qualls said Decatur students have already done their group project at Wetlands Edge Environmental Center. They also received their extended essay information.

    "It can be done," Qualls said. "It would be like someone coming into an advanced-level class late."

    Gibson also included as part of the motion the housekeeping measure of eliminating the kindergarten-, first- and second-grades neighborhood component at Leon Sheffield Magnet Elementary School for the 2007-08 school year.

    In the original desegregation plan, the school board agreed to offer classes for students in these grades living one mile or less from the school, in addition to the grades 3-5 magnet school classes. The school system did not get enough response last year or earlier this spring to offer the neighborhood component.

    Houston said this motion is not for permanent elimination of the component, and the board would offer it again next spring for the 2008-09 school year.

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