Following years of court supervision and almost two years of extensive community input and discussion during 2003 and 2004, the School District of Lee County developed The Plan for Student Assignment. The Board approved the Plan on February 24, 2004 and implemented in the 2005-2006 school year. The Plan has undergone annual reviews for possible changes, revisions and improvements.
UNDERSTANDING THE HISTORY OF STUDENT ASSIGNMENT
In a 1964 lawsuit, a federal district court found that the District was operating an unconstitutionally racially segregated school system in which students and faculty were assigned on the basis of race and access to parts of the school curriculum was limited on the basis of race. The court ordered the District to desegregate. Over the next 35 years the District, under the supervision of the court, made numerous more and less successful efforts to move towards becoming a unitary school system.
In 1997, the District adopted a controlled choice plan that subsequently allowed it to become unitary in the area of student assignment. In 1999, the District entered into a settlement agreement with the plaintiffs in the desegregation case. The court approved the settlement and released the District from its jurisdiction.
As part of the settlement agreement, the District agreed to complete the implementation of the School Choice Plan over a five-year period. The School Choice Plan was designed to foster school improvement and to provide diverse enrollments in the District. As a result of implementing the School Choice Plan, the District accomplished both of these goals.
Adoption of the Current Student Assignment Process
As the requirement, under the desegregation settlement agreement, to implement the former School Choice Plan drew to an end, the School Board adopted Policy establishing a Student Assignment Task Force to review information and develop options for the District with respect to adoption of a student assignment plan to be implemented after expiration of the settlement agreement. The Task Force, which was composed of a diverse group of members from the Lee County community, worked during the 2002-03 school year and the fall of 2003, studying the former School Choice Plan and numerous student assignment plans from other school districts and developing five options for the District’s consideration. Each of the five different options presented to the School Board, the Unitary School System Advisory Committee, and the public supported continuing in some form a student assignment system premised on parental choice.
What emerged from the process in 2003 and 2004 was a broad consensus around four overarching goals for the District and its new student assignment plan. These goals were improving student achievement, ensuring educational equity, promoting the educational benefits of diversity, and managing growth effectively. The District remains committed to these important goals.
Timeline of Events and Changes
1964: Rosalind Blalock vs. Lee County Schools. District found operating an unconstitutionally racially segregated school system.
1970: Beginning of Court Ordered Desegregation in the Lee County Public Schools utilizing Boundary System.
1970-1995: Issues during this time period included frequent changes in Boundaries, lengthy bus rides for minority students, and inability to achieve unitary status under the existing system.
1995: Adopted the policy of school choice in order to achieve unitary status utilizing a Unitary School System Advisory Committee (USSAC). Included a combination of boundary changes and magnet programs pending implementation of managed choice within three years.
1996: Controlled Choice Plan adopted for implementation in the 1998-1999 school year.
1997-1998: School District makes last boundary changes for the school year.
1998-1999: School Choice implemented with three attendance zones. Magnet programs served all three attendance zones. Unitary Status achieved.
1999-2004: Federal monitoring for full compliance of Unitary Status based upon School Choice plan.
2003-2004: The current Plan for Student Assignment was approved by the School Board. The Plan was modified for zones and subzones, replication of programs for equal and more convenient access, and elimination of race as a criteria for student assignment.
2005-2006: Current plan for student assignment implemented for the first time
2006-2007: Plan updated: Waived the non contiguous sub-zone assignment principle under certain circumstances and implemented the sub-zone preference as an additinal factor
2007-2008: Plan updated: Clarified the qualifications for assignment waivers and modified the mix of educational facilities and opportunities in each zone through the addition of new schools.
2008-2009: Plan updated: Language improved for clarity and understandability, term “attractor” changed to “magnet.” Reference to racial and ethnic guidelines and racial isolation as assignment criteria removed or modified. Constitutional class size limits added for school instructional capacity. In-zone transfers restricted and precluded in final quarter of school year.
2009-2010: Plan updated: Distinguished between sibling guarantee and sibling preference. Sub-zone preference implemented in 2006-2007 eliminated. Processing of eligibility pools was shortened to fifteen days after school year begins. Employee waivers restricted based upon capacity and impact on class size. Dunbar High redefined as East Zone school with multi-zone magnet seats. Shift in geographic sub-zone boundary between E-1 and E-2 resulted in Manatee Elementary and Oak Hammock Middle becoming E-2 schools.
2010-2012: No recommended changes
2012-2013: Plan updated: Added preference for middle school students applying to specific high schools, language clarifying that similar magnet application preferences end when schools are no longer magnets, a second proximity zone preference for elementary and middle school students residing between approximately 2 and 5 miles from each school, and committed District to study potential for adding an additional assignment preference based upon parent involvement.
2013-2014: Plan updated: Added high school Cambridge Academy Program (AICE) as a choice magnet requiring specific entrance criteria.
2014-2015: Plan updated: Clearly defined the various types of waivers, documented waiver qualification information, and updated the waiver review/approval process. Updates also included establishment of systematic enrollment deadlines for special high school programs to occur prior to batch lottery process and a move to a longer, single formal school choice application period followed by a single batch lottery assignment process.
2015-2016: Plan updates for the 2016-2017 include a restructuring of the content of the plan as well as the addition of relevant information to make the document easier to read and comprehend and updated to reflect the change of James Stephens International Academy (K-8) to James Stephens International Academy (K-5).
2016-2017: Plan updates for the 2017-2018 were made to include school program updates removing STEM from Tortuga Elementary, adding Cambridge to East Lee County High, piloted programs, addition of relevant information and changes due to House Bill 7029-Florida Open Enrollment Law.