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New state law allows for school choice within county systems

Georgia legislators have enacted new law requiring all school systems in the state to offer parents and guardians the option to transfer their child to any school in the system.

"I think the legislature just wanted to give the public more school choice," McDuffie Assistant Superintendent Barry O'Neill said. "But we have not had anybody inquire into the possibility yet, which is what you kind of hope, that everybody likes their home school and doesn't want to go to the trouble of transporting them somewhere else."

The new law has nothing to do with if a school is performing according to academic standards. Of course, there are limitations. According to the public notice, residents may elect to send their children to any elementary school in the county that has classroom space available after that school's assigned students have been enrolled. The law also requires the parents or guardians electing to send their children to an eligible school must assume the responsibility and cost of transporting their children to and from school.

Because all of McDuffie County Schools, with the exception of Dearing, are organized according to grade level rather than address zoning lines, the options are limited even more.

"A parent may want to change, for instance, if they work in Dearing and they live in Thomson, and they want to be able to drop their child off and pick them up in Dearing because it would be easier," Dr. O'Neill said.

According to the notice, classroom space is defined as the full time enrollment number provided by the Facilities Services Unit of the Georgia Department of Education, less 10 percent to accommodate new students, and the state individual maximum class sizes by grade and subject.

Using these guidelines in McDuffie County, Dearing Elementary School has space available in kindergarten through third grade only, Maxwell Elementary School has space available in kindergarten through first grade and Thomson Elementary School in second and third grades.

"Of course, we would just have to wait and see where there is an interest and then look at the situation," Dr. O'Neill said.

Parents interested in making transfers must fill out a request form, which is available on the school system's website, or from the Board of Education Central Office in Thomson.

Completed forms must be submitted to the eligible school of choice beginning July 27 and no later than Aug. 1. If a school receives more requests than space available, lots will be drawn for enrollment from all submitted applications.

"If you're in Richmond County, you'd have to worry about John the athlete moving to another school because he really wants to play for coach whoever," Dr. O'Neill said. "So, it can really open a lot of difficult things affecting eligibility and staffing. But in McDuffie County, it is much more simple."

Web posted on Thursday, July 23, 2009

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