School officials propose keeping siblings together under new student-assignment system

Boston school officials proposed Thursday night that younger siblings be allowed to attend their older siblings’ schools under a new student-assignment plan.

Many parents have been pushing for a policy that would keep siblings together because an expected overhaul of the way the city assigns students to schools will put many of the younger brothers and sisters in different school zones — or at risk of going to different schools.

The proposal put forth Thursday would allow out-of-zone younger siblings beginning kindergarten to apply to their older brothers’ or sisters’ school through the 2019-20 school year, also known as grandfathering. Transportation would be provided during that time frame, too.

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“We want to honor keeping siblings together,” said Carleton Jones, the school department’s executive director of capital and facilities management.

School officials presented the proposal during a meeting Thursday of the External Advisory Committee, which Mayor Thomas M. Menino appointed this year.

The proposal could affect anywhere between 3,200 and 5,800 younger siblings who could wind up in different assignment zones from their older siblings, according to School Department projections.

The panel supported the proposal in a 12-to-6 vote, and will include it in its overall recommendations, which could be made next month.

Superintendent Carol R. Johnson would then present the recommendations to the School Committee for a final vote.

Some members expressed concern that grandfathering the children could ultimately prevent a child who lives across the street from a school, but who has no sibling there, from getting a seat.

Others were concerned about busing costs, which are currently unknown.

“We are benefitting one group of families but we are limiting others,” said Helen Dajer, a co-chair, who voted against the proposal even though she said she would like to keep siblings together.

Dajer said after the meeting that she supported sibling grandfathering but thought it was being offered for too long of a period.

John Nucci, a member who supported the proposal, said the tradeoff was worthwhile.

“I don’t want to bump any child but if anything warrants that it’s keeping siblings together,” Nucci said.

The new school assignment plan is expected to fulfill Menino’s desire to let more students attend schools closer to home and would replace the current system, which divides the city into three sprawling geographic assignment zones and offers parents more than a dozen choices.

“We’re doing something right as a school system when so many families tell us they want their 2- or 3-year-old to go to the same school as their older brother or sister,” Menino said Thursday night. “These families believe strongly in our teachers and our schools. I am glad we have found a way to accomplish our goal of building a better student assignment system while also ensuring these families can keep their children in school together.”

Initially, school officials had said this fall that they would only grandfather students currently enrolled in their schools, but they would not allow their younger siblings to apply to that school if their home was no longer in that school’s attendance area.

The prospect of siblings attending different schools has many parents on edge. Not only would it make it harder for parents to get involved in their children’s education, a critical element of a school’s vibrancy, but it would bring a host of logistical issues: There would be two sets of teachers and administrators, different parent councils and fund-raising efforts, and potentially different school start and end times, to name a few.

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