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Fewer parents seek school transfers

Kim and Curt Riske are among the many parents whose children attend a Grand Forks school outside their school boundary area.

Their son attends Discovery Elementary, although last year he was assigned to and attended Wilder Elementary as a kindergartener.

The couple felt that, at Discovery, their son's special needs would be better served—and they have been, said Kim Riske. "We're very pleased with our communication with the school. He gets more attention and redirection there."

Fewer parents are seeking school transfers within the Grand Forks School District, said Jody Thompson, associate superintendent of elementary schools.

The number of requests has dropped steadily the past three years because "the word is getting out that there's less space available in our facilities," Thompson said.

Typically, the decision to allow transfers depends on whether the receiving school has adequate space, he said.

For the 2015-16 school year, the district received 554 in-district transfer requests; in 2016-17, 473; and in 2017-18, 373.

For the last school year, 64 percent of the requests were approved—down from 68 percent the year before, he said.

More requests are received for elementary rather than secondary school transfers, he said. In 2017-18, there were 194 for elementary students, 74 for middle school and 105 for high school.

In the application process, parents explain the reason for the request. The school principal is involved, and Thompson must approve the transfer for it to occur.

"We use class-size guidelines in order to determine whether to approve or deny transfer, Thompson said.

School officials also consider whether a school "is at or near class-size capacity," he said. "Some schools have a history of growing right before the school year starts."

Reasons for transfer

Several factors play into parents' decisions to transfer their children to other schools in the district.

The decision usually is based on convenience, hinging on "daycare issues, where they work, where the grandparents live," he said. "Or maybe they move during the year and want (the student) to remain at the neighborhood school."

Parents may also favor school districts outside Grand Forks.

"Some of our parents choose to (send their student) to smaller districts," Thompson said. "They like the smaller-district feel."

Parents can apply to "open enroll" their student in a district other than their own.

"In 2017-18, 26 students came to us from other school districts—eight from Emerado, six from Thompson, four from Manvel, three from Larimore, two from Midway and one each from Hatton, Minot and Northwood," Thompson said.

So far, this year, a dozen students are coming in from Central Valley, Emerado, Manvel, Midway, Minto, North Star and Thompson, he said. "That number typically will grow as the year goes on."

"We try to be as open as we can to accepting students. And, once we take an open-enrolled student, we keep them."

State per-pupil aid follows the student to the receiving district, he said.

Crookston's experience

Across the Red River, the Crookston School District also sees the effect of open enrollment, which is a much easier process there.

"The philosophy in Minnesota—from a state standpoint—is, we want you to go where you're comfortable and where you think your child will get the best education," said Superintendent Jeremy Olson.

"In Minnesota, parents get to choose where they want to send their kids," Olson said.

For the 2017-18 school year, 235 students who reside in the district chose to attend schools outside of it: 123 open-enrolled at Fisher, 81 at Climax, 11 at Fertile, eight at Red Lake Falls, and three at East Grand Forks, he said.

The remaining students fall into other categories, he said.

Twenty-six students from outside the district chose to attend Crookston schools, said Olson.

The total number of Crookston students not attending school in the district "is higher than in the past," he said. "That number does fluctuate over time for our district."

"You can take 100 students (who enroll elsewhere) and there will be 80 reasons why they're doing it," he said.

Schools are required to accept students from other districts, but they may deny a request based on insufficient capacity, if the student is from out of state or if the student has committed a violent act, Olson said.

"Open enrollment is a complex process. You'll find some people who are anti-open enrollment and some who are pro-open enrollment. It's our job to make our schools appealing to all of our families and kids," he said.

"I do not think competition is a bad thing."