If the Buffalo Board of Education and the New York State Education Department both approve the district’s latest plan to deal with students who request transfers, school officials can expect disappointed students and outraged parents.
They also can expect a lawsuit.
The plan, submitted by the district to the state last week, would allow about 20 percent of the 2,200 students in low-performing schools who want to transfer to schools in good standing to actually do so.
It outlines a three-year strategy that would also open two new schools, close and then re-open two existing schools, co-locate multiple schools in one building and collaborate with other area districts to create space for transfer students.
Samuel L. Radford III, president of the District Parent Coordinating Council, said denying the transfers is illegal under state education law and threatened that his group would sue the district if the Board of Education signs off on the plan at its special meeting at noon today, and if the state also approves it.
But he hopes it won’t come to that, as the council is going to ask both the district and the state to reject the plan.
“We’re two steps away from a lawsuit at this point,” Radford said Sunday. “At this point, we don’t feel that we’re going to need a lawsuit, because the state Education Department has already ruled that what the district is doing is illegal.”
The state ruled in May that districts must find space in a better school for every student who wishes to transfer out of a low-performing one. And when the Buffalo Public Schools submitted a document describing how the district would accommodate requests for transfers, the state rejected it because it wasn’t detailed enough.
Space in good schools is at a premium in Buffalo, where 45 out of the 57 schools are considered by the state to be failing, based on standardized test scores. That’s not an excuse, though, in the eyes of state education officials, who wrote in May that state and federal regulations do “not include lack of capacity as an acceptable reason to deny students the option to transfer.”
Radford expects the state to remain consistent with its May ruling and deny the district’s plan.
“This is a no-brainer,” he said.
But Dr. Barbara Seals Nevergold, president of the Board of Education, said Sunday she has no reason to believe the state will reject the plan because it was developed in collaboration with state education officials.
She also urged the parents’ council not to move forward with a lawsuit, saying it would only be detrimental to progress and hurt all students, even those looking to transfer.
“I would hope that rational minds and rational heads would take a look at this and realize that the schools are moving forward in good faith,” she said.
Many parents and students, though, can only wonder whether they will be awarded the transfers they’ve sought. Patricia Elliott-Patton’s daughter is entering seventh grade at Waterfront Elementary School, but wants to transfer to Olmsted School 64, which is within walking distance. Her other daughter, who is going into her senior year, already goes there.
Olmsted requires that students take an admissions test in order to attend, and Elliott-Patton is confident her seventh-grader could pass it. But she called such policies unfair and said they concentrate the top students in only a few schools.
“If my daughter does not get into the best possible school, which is Olmsted, then she’s still going to have to go to one of the other schools, which still have low-achieving scores,” Elliott-Patton said.