August 10, 2007
By ROBERT A. FRAHM, Courant Staff Writer
For D'Anté Bryant, a seventh-grader from Manchester looking for a magnet school, the Metropolitan Learning Center in Bloomfield seemed an ideal choice, but the school was off-limits to her - until now.
The 12-year-old recently became eligible to apply to the school under a new state law that allows regional magnet schools to fill vacancies with students from towns that do not have formal partnerships with the magnets.
"It's amazing I actually have this chance," said Barbara Forschino, D'Anté's mother. "It wasn't an option last year."
Magnet schools such as the Metropolitan Learning Center have been a popular choice for many families, but until this year they had been unavailable to children from towns that chose not to pay the tuition required to send local students to the magnets.
Manchester, for example, is not among the six towns that have arranged to pay for local children to attend the Metropolitan Learning Center. But under the new law, the state can require nonparticipating towns such as Manchester to pay the $2,185 tuition for each local student who is accepted by the magnet.
"It certainly does open up an opportunity that wasn't there before," said Mark Linabury, acting chief of the bureau of school choice programs at the state Department of Education.
By opening the magnets to previously ineligible applicants, including children in mostly white suburban towns, the new law could help those schools meet racial integration goals established in the long-running Sheff v. O'Neill school desegregation case.
Magnet schools were a key element of a 2003 settlement in the Sheff case. That settlement was designed to provide racially integrated schools, including magnets in the Hartford region, as alternatives for the overwhelmingly black and Latino student population in Hartford. However, some of those schools have had difficulty attracting enough white children to meet the Sheff integration goals.
The original Sheff settlement expired in June, but an extension of the settlement, including new goals, is pending before the state legislature.
Although the new law opens the magnet schools to applicants from towns that have not contracted for seats in the magnets, children from those towns would be accepted only if vacancies exist after towns with magnet partnerships have the opportunity to fill their allotted seats.
Bruce Douglas, executive director of the Capitol Region Education Council, said his office had received numerous inquiries in the past from parents whose children were not eligible to apply to magnets. The council oversees eight regional magnet schools.
Douglas said that the new law could have significant impact in the long term as new magnet schools open but that it is unlikely to have a widespread immediate effect because the number of existing vacancies is limited.
Still, parents welcome the chance to apply.
"That's wonderful," said Laurie O'Brien, a South Windsor woman who began fighting four years ago to enroll her son in the Greater Hartford Academy of Mathematics and Science, a magnet school in Hartford near the Trinity College campus. South Windsor is not among the towns in partnership with the magnet school.
In the past, O'Brien even offered to pay the tuition but was turned down. "We tried so many different ways, and the answer was still `no,'" she said.
Her son will consider applying under the new law, but O'Brien said she is not certain whether he will transfer now that he is entering his senior year at South Windsor High School.
In Manchester, Forschino said she is delighted that her daughter, D'Anté, can apply to the Metropolitan Learning Center, a school that emphasizes international studies.
"Their language program is unbelievable. ... They have high standards. They expect a lot of their children," she said.
Still, there is no guarantee her daughter will get in. The school has an estimated 40 vacancies this fall, and, depending on the number of applicants, D'Anté's application could be subject to a lottery.
"Our fingers are crossed," Forschino said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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