On Dec. 5, the parents of Ernest Hemingway STEAM School fifth-graders attended a meeting covering the procedure for enrollment in next year’s sixth grade. A letter was distributed that opened with the “good news” that the school “stabilized its enrollment” and “gave Blaine County parents an option for middle school in the north valley.” For families who reside within the Hemingway’s “attendance boundaries,” the “bad news” soon followed.
It was announced that a lottery will determine sixth-grade enrollments. The rationale for this process, which is less a “lottery” than a granting of priority, is simply that there are more students who wish to attend sixth grade at the school than the 55 places available.
There are many families who have respected the school board’s attendance zone for Hemingway, which is Ohio Gulch and north to the county line, and therefore moved into the attendance zone—sometimes with significant hardship—who are at risk of their fifth-graders being displaced from the school. The letter clumsily described the hierarchy of priorities as “factors [that] informed the process for the lottery.” There are seven categories of priorities.
If you are a Hemingway staff member, your child is granted first priority. It does not matter whether the staff member resides outside the attendance boundaries.
The second priority rewards continuous enrollment since kindergarten for any student with a sibling also currently enrolled at Hemingway. A family that was granted admission six years ago regardless of their address then or now in or out of the attendance boundaries is preferred by the school over a family that may have moved into and remained within the Hemingway attendance boundaries from first grade and onward.
The third priority is identical to the second except that a single child who attended Hemingway since kindergarten is less favored than his classmates who have a sibling enrolled in any grade at the school.
The fourth and fifth priorities are granted to current fifth-graders who arrived at Hemingway after kindergarten. Again, it is helpful not to be the only child attending Hemingway within a family regardless of the family’s residence within or outside the attendance boundaries.
The sixth and seventh priorities open the “lottery” to any student who resides in Blaine County regardless of the attendance boundaries. Students enrolled in the Blaine County School District have priority over those who wish to enter Hemingway from private schools or even after being home-schooled.
The factors described in the letter and the priorities for admission derived from them clearly place many families who reside within the attendance boundaries at risk of losing their place within Hemingway. A previous policy that accommodated families who live outside the school’s attendance boundaries on a space-available basis seems now to have morphed into a rule that treats all students equally regardless of their residential address.
The attendance boundaries listed on the Blaine County school board’s website are clearly described. Attendance at a particular school within the district is based on a family’s residential address. Unfortunately, the district administrators seem to have ignored its very clear attendance boundaries in developing their policy factors for attending Hemingway STEAM School.
It is troubling that their letter states that “[a]ttendance boundaries for … EHSS Middle School are the same.” In fact, the boundaries are disregarded by their policies. These are seemingly arbitrary policies that discriminate against Ketchum residents who respect the district’s attendance boundaries. Sadly, these policies may result in no option for some Ketchum residents’ fifth-graders to continue their education at Hemingway.
If there is to be a lottery, should it not be a way for students who reside outside the attendance boundaries to be accommodated for an available place in the Hemingway sixth grade after all families who reside within are placed? Indeed, the truly first priority should be automatic placement of current fifth-graders who reside within the attendance boundaries.
Richard N. Sampson is a resident of Ketchum.