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MailTribune.com
  • Medford school-transfer requests granted

    It's contingent upon a legal review by school district's attorney
  • The Medford School Board adopted policies Monday that close the door on new transfers in or out of the district, but students who have already begun the process for next fall may be admitted.
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  • The Medford School Board adopted policies Monday that close the door on new transfers in or out of the district, but students who have already begun the process for next fall may be admitted.
    After hearing from several parents, the board decided to allow those who'd begun the process before June 30 to transfer, as long as the district's attorney deems it within state law.
    "Our board policy was the old policy until (the meeting), so those families should be allowed the provisions they had under the old policy," said Board Chairman Jeff Thomas.
    Families would need to provide the district with documentation by July 31 that proved they had pursued a transfer before June 30.
    Thomas said he hopes the board will have an answer from legal authorities by the end of the week.
    The changes to the policy were prompted by a new state law, House Bill 4007, that prohibits districts from admitting students on a case-by-case basis, thus preventing any form of discrimination.
    Without being able to consider the individual circumstances of students, districts were forced to choose to either not admit any transfer students, admit every transfer student, grandfather in active transfers, or establish caps for grades, schools or the district as a whole.
    However, the law makes an exception for students whose "health, welfare and safety" are at risk.
    On June 2, the board adopted a resolution that bars new transfers but grandfathers in 300 current, non-resident transfer students and any of their siblings born before Sept. 1, 2009. Students also can transfer from another district into Ruch School.
    Before signing off on the new policy Monday, the board heard comments from several families who were frustrated with the new rules.
    One Eagle Point mom, Tonya Sowles, began the transfer process in March with the expectation that her 5-year-old daughter, Emma, would be able to attend Abraham Lincoln Elementary School this fall.
    Sowles said she works from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. four days a week in Medford. Eagle Point's kindergarten program doesn't begin until 8:35 a.m. However, Abraham Lincoln's program begins at 7:40 a.m., which would not only work better for her schedule but also be more convenient for Emma's grandparents, who live in Medford and would provide daycare in the afternoon.
    Sowles said she requested a transfer from Eagle Point but was told she would have to wait until the district's board could adopt a new interdistrict transfer policy and draw up a new form.
    On May 19, Sowles received a letter from the Eagle Point School District saying her transfer request had been approved, making Emma one of the 30 students that the district will allow to transfer out under its new policy.
    On May 21, Sowles presented the letter to the Medford School District, which didn't have a policy in place at the time. She was told to check back.
    "I called the next week, and the week after that, and the week after that until finally they told me they had come to a resolution and to go to the website," Sowles said. "I went to the website to find out that they were not allowing any incoming or outgoing transfers."
    Sowles said she emailed Director of Elementary Education Julie Evans and Superintendent Phil Long, who has since retired. Evans explained to her that the district's hands were tied and encouraged her to email the board members with her concerns, which Sowles did.
    "I want the best for my daughter, but I'm stuck," she said. "And Ruch doesn't help me."
    Tim Schmeusser was another parent who attended Monday's board meeting and cited personal reasons for wanting his daughter, who will be a freshman this fall, to attend South Medford High School rather than Crater High School in Central Point, where his family lives.
    Schmeusser played the same waiting game with the Central Point School District. And, in June, the district finally gave his daughter permission to transfer out.
    The family attended a freshman orientation at South Medford High School in May, but it wasn't until June 5 that they learned from a South staff member that the Medford district would not be accepting any new transfers.
    "That was the first we'd heard about it," said Schmeusser, adding that he thinks the board should revisit the policy and adopt caps like other districts.
    "I don't think a closed border is going to do anything for the community," he said.
    Thomas said the district will add full-day kindergarten in 2015 and must make sure it has the space to accommodate these students before taking on additional transfer students.
    "Until we can get an updated facilities plan to find out where we have space, it wouldn't be prudent of the board to come up with an arbitrary number (or cap)," he said.
    Board member Kim Wallan said there were just too many unknowns and hurdles in establishing a cap.
    "Kids don't come in tidy packages of 24 third-graders," she said.
    Thomas said the board hopes legislators will look at the consequences of the law and be willing to revisit it, at which point the board would change the policy.
    Sowles said she turned in her documentation to district staff early Tuesday morning in the hope that legal counsel says the board's modification to the policy is lawful.
    "I'm glad that we're at least at a maybe," she said. "I'm going on four months of unknowns."
    Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.
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