For as long as there’s been a housing market, “great schools” has been a family neighborhood’s top selling point — but does it really drive a sale? Not necessarily. We all appreciate and support our excellent schools without question, but proximity to them needn’t determine where student educational journeys take place.
Since 1994, Colorado families have had the option to request attendance at any state public school for free, even across district lines. Also known as Open Enrollment, the Public Schools of Choice law states that resident pupils may enroll in public schools other than that for which they are officially zoned according to home address, provided certain criteria is met. In other words, choices abound. But what does this really mean, and how does it work? Here, school officials answer popular questions.
WHY OPEN ENROLL?
There are many reasons families may wish to consider open enrollment — it all comes down to individual circumstances. An anticipated move or schedule constraints may impact decisions. A school’s specific focus or unique educational model may hold strong appeal. Whatever the pull, families can rest assured that their choices — all their choices — are good one. Locally, we couldn’t be in better hands, with Boulder Valley School District, St. Vrain Valley School District, and Adams 12 Five Star Schools all offering the utmost in extensive, top-quality, rigorous and diverse programming.
HOW DOES OPEN ENROLLMENT WORK?
Each district offers online applications that can be submitted within specific timelines, shared in detail on their respective websites. Charter schools, public schools run by independent boards of directors as opposed to the district school board, have their own systems, and should be approached directly.
How submitted applications are handled varies between districts. In St. Vrain Valley School District, students are accepted on a first-come, first-served basis, with exceptions made for students who have a sibling already attending the school of choice. In contrast, Boulder Valley School District’s selection is based on a lottery process during the designated window, with transparency being top priority in efforts to accommodate all. “We produce board policies so all families can see our dates, preferences, and how we are completing our lottery,” says Mike Wilcox, BVSD Director for Student Enrollment. “We further keep our window open for a long time, trying to maximize opportunities.”
In Adams 12, three rounds of choice are offered, with the first round encouraged for priority consideration. Here, applications are considered on a lottery basis in rounds one and two, with the third round being processed on a first-come, first-served basis dependent on space.
WHEN CAN SCHOOLS DENY ENROLLMENT?
Schools can deny applications for a couple of reasons, explains Amber Muir, SVVSD Student Data Manager. The primary reason this happens is when capacity is reached in the requested grade level or as a whole school. The open enrollment law also allows for requests to be denied in instances when an issue is determined to be a concern through Safe School Legislation, when a school does not offer services or facilities to meet a student’s needs, or when the students has been expelled. Typically in these cases, recommendations will be made for a school placement that can better meet student needs, says Muir.
WHERE SHOULD I BEGIN?
Start by exploring. Individual school websites are replete with vibrant, thorough information across all local districts. The St. Vrain Valley School District Communications Department puts together a great catalog of schools and their programs, Muir shares. All 5th grade and 8th grade families receive a Middle and High School Options publication in the mail showcasing the variety of school and program options available to them.
Once you’ve gotten a sense of what’s out there, go visit. “We offer plenty of tours and events,” Wilcox says.
“All schools post info on their own and district websites, and staff are always available to talk with interested families on site.”
All three districts offer tours, and work to be as accommodating as possible when it comes to supporting families in their research.
WHAT FACTORS SHOULD FAMILIES CONSIDER IN FINDING THE RIGHT FIT?
One factor families should consider carefully is whether or not students can reasonably get to and from schools once accepted. Transportation is not provided. Outside of that, it comes down to personal preferences. So many options can be overwhelming, but they don’t have to be. Take heart in knowing, all the choices truly are good ones. What’s more, students are always welcome at their neighborhood “home school”. “You cannot make a bad choice,” says Robbyn Fernandez, BVSD Assistant Superintendent of School Leadership.
“We are far more alike than we are different. All our schools ground instruction in state standards, share the same dedication to our students and families, and have the same driven instructional purpose.”
Learn more about School Choice:
- Boulder Valley School District, bvsd.org/parents-students/enrollment/open-enrollment
- St. Vrain Valley School District, svvsd.org/schools/enrollment/open-enrollment
- Adams 12 Five Star Schools, adams12.org/enroll/schools-of-choice-program
By Wendy McMillan, Raised in the Rockies. Photos courtesy: Boulder Valley School District