The Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) Board will vote a second time on whether or not to freeze intradistrict choice (IDC) due to a failure to warn the agenda item properly for its November 20 meeting.
At that meeting, the board voted to freeze IDC for students wanting to attend Crossett Brook Middle School who are not already in their first or second year at that school.
“I regret that that oversight means we will have to revote, but I don’t want to take that decision without allowing district families the opportunity to comment,” said board chair Caitlin Hollister.
The agenda item will be warned for the board’s December 4 meeting.
IDC, which allows students to choose to attend a school other than their local district school, is causing unintended consequences for middle school enrollment. In the first year of IDC, 2017-2018, 32 students chose a school outside their district. In year 2018-2019, that number rose to 64 students. This school year, 2019-2020, there are over 100 students participating in IDC. The majority of these students are Harwood Union Middle School students choosing to attend Crossett Brook Middle School. IDC has facilitated the current imbalance in middle school enrollment, which now teeters like a seesaw toward CBMS and away from HUMS.
The Harwood Unified Union School District Board addressed this issue at a November 20 meeting. Superintendent Brigid Nease told the board that this was more than just an enrollment issue.
“The larger problem is not what happens with numbers but what happens to academics,” Nease said.
If enrollment continues to shift, there will be consequences for both schools: Class sizes will be too big at CBMS and too small at HUMS; teachers will need to be moved to accommodate the shift; and inequities in math, band and music will grow as HUMS suffers from decreased enrollment.
A motion was made to move all seventh- and eighth-graders to CBMS next year. This solution was meant to be the alternative to freezing IDC all together. The potential benefits of moving all seventh- and eighth-graders to CBMS include providing academic equity to all students, ending uncertainty for teachers that might need to be reassigned, allowing the board to standardize class size and providing reliable busing for all students. The drawbacks of moving all seventh- and eighth-graders to CBMS include crowded classrooms, unhappy students who’ve been forced to merge against their will, costs associated with moving and the possible need for temporary pod classrooms.
An overwhelming majority of board members voted against the motion to move all seventh- and eighth-graders to CBMS for the 2020-2021 school year. Many were concerned with the effect that learning in temporary classrooms would have on students’ education.
“These pods remind me of upscale shipping containers,” said board member Kristen Rogers. “According to the website, these pods are meant for disaster relief, prisons and jails.”
Her pique was not with any board member but rather on IDC in general. “I’m very bothered by the fact that IDC is being used to dictate the future of Harwood Middle School,” said Rogers.
Among the few board members in favor of moving all seventh- and eighth-graders to CBMS was Alex Thomsen. With faith in the CBMS staff, she spoke in favor of the move. “Where they (the students) are in terms of the building is much less significant than who they are with and how they are taught,” Thomsen said. She supported the merge, despite her acknowledgment that it would “not be an easy process.”
With the majority of board members against the merger, another motion was proposed: Freeze IDC for all seventh- and eighth-graders next year. The board took a vote and the majority voted in favor of freezing IDC.
Finally, considering all the controversy over what action would be best for students, one might wonder what the students think about all this. At the meeting, two student representatives, both attendees of Harwood Union High School, were present. They shared their opinions, which were dramatically different than those expressed by board members. “We already have sports, dances and other activities together. Why can’t we go to school together too?” said one student representative.
“We wish you combined us earlier,” said the other.
They assured the board that they would not mind an extra 10 minutes on the bus and that Harwood Union High School could use the extra space. These students were not concerned about costs or temporary classrooms. They just wished to go to school with their friends.