SEBRING - Parents of students zoned for Memorial Elementary School have about a week to decide if they want their children to remain at Memorial or transfer across town to Cracker Trail Elementary.
The School Board of Highlands County sent a letter to Memorial Elementary parents last week informing them that their child is eligible to participate in Florida's Opportunity Scholarship Program.
According to the program, a child who attends a school with an "F" accountability grade or three consecutive "Ds" is eligible to transfer to a higher performing public school for the 2013-14 school year.
When the school grades were released by the state recently, Memorial Elementary received the district's first "F" grade and Cracker Trail improved from a "C" to an "A". Most district schools dropped a letter grade. Cracker Trail is now the district's sole "A" school.
Assistant Superintendent of Business Operations Mike Averyt explained that since it is an "A" school and the other elementary schools don't have any space, Cracker Trail is the only option for parents who want their children transferred out of Memorial Elementary under the state program.
The district will provide the transportation to Cracker Trail, he added.
The distance between the schools may be a consideration for some of the parents, but the district had to offer that choice, Averyt said.
"It's a space issue; right now we are pretty full at all of our elementary schools and we have got two or three rooms at Cracker Trail so if any more than that go [for the transfer] we are going to have an issue," he said. "I am not sure how we are going to handle that."
Something would have to be worked out with the state because if the space is not enough, the district will not pay to lease portable classrooms to try to accommodate more students, Averyt said. Eventually, the enrollment becomes too big to efficiently operate a school, he said.
"We are going to try to place every student who requests a move ... but, we have very little time," he said.
Cracker Trail Elementary Principal Rick Demeri said he has a little space in his existing classes and three empty classrooms to accommodate additional students who may transfer from Memorial Elementary.
Cracker Trail has accommodated students from other schools in prior years under a provision of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
"It usually settles out; it's a new place for some of them; some of them know the school and have been here before and they want to return," Demeri said. "Generally things work out."
The transportation details will be worked out after the number of transfer students is known and where they live, he said. Demeri noted in the past there was one centrally located bus stop for students in the Lorida area who chose to attend Cracker Trail.
Parents who need more information or want to request a transfer from Memorial to Cracker Trail should contact Memorial Elementary Principal Laura Waldon at 784-0200 by Aug. 15.
Averyt said the district had a similar transfer situation a couple of years ago with Avon Park High students, who could either go to Sebring High or Lake Placid High, but few students opted for a transfer.
Previously under the No Child Left Behind Act, school districts were required to offer Public School Choice, the option to transfer to another public school.
The option was only available to students enrolled in schools with a high percentage of students from low-income families when their the school was identified as in need of improvement, corrective action or restructuring.
Starting in the 2011-12 school year, districts are no longer required to offer new school-choice transfers, but are required to allow students who had already transferred to remain in the school they chose until the school's highest grade level.