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Q&A: How Durham Public Schools’ reassignment plan will impact elementary students, families

Students at George Watts Elementary School in Durham, N.C.
Elissa Nadworny
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NPR

For the first time in 30 years, Durham Public Schools is undergoing district-wide changes to the school boundary lines that determine where students will go to school.

School board members and district leaders say this is part of a strategic effort to give students more equitable access to education programs and to ensure school and classroom sizes will be more sustainable as the population continues to grow in parts of the county.

Last week, the Durham School Board approved plans for elementary school assignments. Later, the school board will turn its attention to middle and high school boundaries, to propose and vote on those changes later this spring.

All changes will take effect in Fall 2024.

Will the elementary school designated for my home change in 2024?

You can search the elementary school designated to your home address for the 2024-2025 school year here.

If you don’t know your current 2023 elementary school assignment – maybe you have a toddler or you recently moved – you can find that here.

DPS Growing together map comparison.JPG
Durham Public Schools
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How many students will be required to change schools in 2024?

An estimated 2,040 students who are currently in kindergarten or first grade will be reassigned to a different base school in 2024 than the one they currently attend. Some of those students will be allowed to stay at their school through the magnet program lottery, sibling priority or the school transfer process, reducing the total number of students who will change schools.

The school board approved a plan that allows all students who will be in the fourth or fifth grade in Fall 2024 to remain at their current school until they graduate to middle school.

Why is the school board reassigning schools? What are the problems this is trying to solve?

Durham neighborhoods have changed a lot in the last 30 years with new development and population growth. Right now, some schools are overcrowded, while others have empty seats. The district is in the process of building one new school and renovating six others. This reassignment plan will redistribute students to balance out school capacity.

This plan also seeks to improve equitable access to magnet programs. Students do not all live near specialty application schools, and students face barriers to applying to magnet programs because the process is complex. In recent years, about 14,000 students have applied annually to Pre-K -12 magnet programs to be put in a lottery for about 3,000 available seats. Under this plan, there will be more magnet programs and additional lottery seats.

The new reassignment plan seeks to:

  • Reduce overcrowding and the need for mobile classrooms.
  • Designate geographic regions that each have a year-round school, a Montessori school, an international baccalaureate school and a dual language immersion program.
  • Ensure each geographic region serves a diverse, socioeconomically balanced group of students.
  • Simplify the lottery application process for magnet schools and improve access to magnet programs for students who live near the school.
  • Improve bus route efficiency across the district.

This is how DPS administrators say students will benefit:

  • All elementary students will have access to visual and performing arts, world language, and science, technology and engineering instruction in their school.
  • There will be more Pre-K seats at Durham Public Schools in 2024 because the district will be able to expand Pre-K classrooms in schools that are currently overcrowded.
  • There will be an estimated 2,070 additional lottery seats for specialty programs that students can apply for, such as Montessori, year-round and international baccalaureate schools and dual language immersion programs.
  • Most application schools will have seats reserved for students who live immediately near the school, removing some of the barriers to access those magnet programs. 
  • More students with disabilities will have access to special education classrooms, because the district will be able to expand separate setting classrooms in schools that are currently overcrowded.
  • When the initiative is fully implemented, many students will have shorter bus routes, helping to alleviate an on-going bus driver shortage.

Is the base school the only option for my child?

Your family will be able to apply to any application school in your region in 2024. If you do not apply to a magnet school, your child will attend the school assigned to your home address. You will not be able to apply for a lottery seat in an application school outside of your region.

DPS Growing Together application schools.JPG
Durham Public Schools
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board of education materials

Will any students be allowed to stay in their current school if the boundary changes?

The approved plan allows for fourth and fifth graders to stay at their current school when the plan takes effect in Fall 2024. Those students are currently in the second or third grade. If those students do wish to move to another school, they can apply through the district’s transfer process.

Students with an older sibling in fourth or fifth grade who remains at their school in 2024 will be able to apply to stay in that school until their older sibling graduates on to middle school.

Any student who does not wish to attend their geographically assigned base school in 2024 can apply for a transfer within the normal transfer process through the Office of Student Assignment.

If my child currently attends a magnet elementary school, will they have to reapply through the lottery?

Yes, your child will have to reapply, but she will have priority for a seat in the same type of magnet program, possibly at a different school. For example, if your child currently attends a Montessori school farther from where you live, she will receive priority in the lottery for the Montessori program in your new region. Priority status means that your child will be entered into an early round of the lottery.

If my child lives in the attendance zone for a magnet elementary school in 2024, will they be guaranteed a seat?

Yes, if your home address is in the attendance boundary for that elementary school, your child will be able to attend without entering a lottery. If your child lives in the same region as a magnet school, but not its immediate boundary, you will be able to apply to the school via the lottery.

What about schools that currently have a magnet program that are not the regional magnet school for this program in 2024?

Several elementary schools will see their magnet programs change in 2024. The school district will make case-by-case decisions about continuing education programs at some of those schools even if it is no longer a formal magnet designation.

You can learn more about the Growing Together initiative on the Durham Public Schools' website here.

Liz Schlemmer is WUNC's Education Reporter, covering preschool through higher education. Email: lschlemmer@wunc.org
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