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Public school open enrollment needs to be truly open

Expert says state should focus on help for struggling schools

Navigating Arizona’s Public School open enrollment process for my children has been confusing and frustrating for years. Nine years ago, I applied for a variance with three central Phoenix school districts so that my daughters could go to school near where I worked.  My older daughter received a variance; my younger daughter did not.  Although they are in different grades, the reason was clear – my younger daughter requires special education resources, and the three districts were afraid to receive her.

Veronica Ragland

Veronica Ragland

Each of the school districts boldly published their open enrollment status on their website and even welcomed me to complete variance paperwork. Then, like a punch in the gut, I received approvals for one and denials for the other. I requested support for the three districts’ decision, but was simply told that there were no seats and no resources available for my youngest child. I filed a claim with the Department of Education, but the department upheld the decision of the school districts citing their autonomy. Blatant discrimination by private entities was nothing new to us. However, my law school experience taught me that both of my children should have equal protection under the law as it relates to federal funding and public education.

There is a bold effort at the Arizona Legislature to right this wrong. Senate Bill 1685 gives me hope that the next generation of Arizona parents may be closer to enjoying true open enrollment. In addition to creating a streamlined and uniform enrollment process, that bill makes it clear that public school districts can no longer cherry pick their students. This is a major step forward for children with disabilities. No child should be discriminated against for any reason, especially when trying to attend a public school.

Not only does SB1685 say that it is no longer acceptable to be arbitrary and capricious in student selection, but that public school districts need to be transparent and accountable. This would help public schools evolve into the institutions of learning that they are intended to be to all students.

Even though I did not prevail in my claim nearly a decade ago, passage of SB1685 would give me hope that other Arizona families never have to experience the closed doors to their pursuit of the best public education for their child.

Veronica Ragland is a mom and education advocate who lives in Phoenix.

 

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