BPS Just Changed the Rules in the Middle of the Game

In the Boston Public Schools assignment process, sibling preference has always been treated as sacrosanct.

In 2004, when the assignment process was examined, the Task Force quickly dispatched the issue, noting that comprehensive sibling preference was among “several key elements that were repeated consistently and forcefully by families throughout Boston when they talked about what was important when choosing a school for their children.” They called it one of their key principles. In fact, their first recommendation begins “[s]ibling preference is important to all families in Boston and must be maintained.”

In the current process, the feedback sessions from Boston parents elicited similar support for sibling preference. Go look at the data yourself—the vast majority of respondents strongly support sibling preference.

An alternative proposal, released on Wednesday, addresses the issue in a sentence, calling for comprehensive sibling preference. It seems strange that when the BPS released their reform proposals that they contained no decisive information about grandfathering in existing students and sibling preference.

At Wednesday’s School Committee meeting, superintendent Dr. Carol R. Johnson finally answered the question. A newsletter from the superintendent said that current students would be grandfathered in, but “[b]eginning for the 2014-2015 school year, sibling preference would be available for schools in a child’s home zone.”

That’s a short phrase with potentially enormous impact. First, it’s the end of comprehensive sibling preference, which is now qualified by limiting it to home zone schools (although we don’t yet know exactly what that means, as there are six-, nine-, 11-, 23-, and no-zone plans on the table).

And for the thousands of parents (myself included) who played by the rules under the existing system, it’s a potential logistical or real estate nightmare. Even if they still have walk zone preference, many will not be able to get their younger children into the same school as their older siblings, so then the options become figuring out how to get multiple kids to multiple schools, exploring the transfer of the older children, heading to private schools and parochials, or perusing the real estate listings.

It’s surprising that a principle so fundamental to the system could be jettisoned so quickly. If the superintendent really “… believe[s] that achieving this goal should not come at the expense of our current families, who endured a confusing and stressful choice process to begin with, and who like their schools and have no desire to change them,” she would do well to see how this decision does exactly that.