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Transfers weighed for children of GW faculty, staff

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Decisions over who will be allowed to attend George Washington High School are proving contentious for Kanawha school board members. 

Discussion grew heated at a Monday meeting when talks turned to the school's transfer policy and how it relates to the children of faculty and staff at the crowded, high-performing South Hills high school.

Traditionally, children of employees are allowed to attend the school where their parent is employed, no matter where they live. But the situation is more complicated this fall at GW, where county administrators have banned all out-of-area transfers, saying the school is too crowded to accept more students.

Administrators have already denied about 20 transfer requests from students across the county. Now they have to decide whether to grant requests from children of teachers at the school.

Board President Pete Thaw said it would be hypocritical to grant the requests, saying those who have been turned away deserve a steady approach to the policy.

"If not we have two classes of people here, some who can (transfer) and some who can't," he said. "I'm not going to sit here and say we can allow it for a select few."

Board member Becky Jordon also cried inequity, but saw it in another area.

"I'm sick of GW being singled out," she said. "This has gotten crazy ... It's just wrong. We're turning down the staff at GW but if someone teaches at any other school they can bring their kid with them."

This decision will likely only affect a handful of students -- administrators said they know of two school employees who would like to transfer -- but is a matter of principle for the school board, which has struggled to come to a decisive agreement regarding school choice in Kanawha County.

All students in the county system are able to apply for the school system's "school choice" program, which lets them attend any high school in the county. But GW, in Charleston's crowded South Hills area, receives a disproportionate number of those students -- it performs well in sports and above average on standardized tests, and offers more than 20 Advanced Placement courses.

This is the second consecutive year that GW has been closed to transfers. Last year, superintendent Ron Deurring implemented a moratorium on out-of-area transfers to the school because of crowding.

That move was unpopular among students and administrators at GW, who say the influx of engaged transfer students is vital to its atmosphere and achievement. It was more popular with administrators at other schools, who had long worried about the tendency of their neighborhood's best students to leave the area to attend GW. 

The school board has toyed with the idea of closing all the system's schools to out-of-area transfers, meaning all students would be forced to attend a school dictated by their address. Ultimately, though, the board has never elected to take that drastic measure, sticking instead with the county's longstanding open system. 

Board member Jim Crawford, himself a former teacher, argued the school system owes the same courtesy to its longstanding policy to allow children of teachers to attend their parents' school.

"We've always accommodated teachers and their children if we need to," he said. "We need to support them."

"I have no issue, no problem honoring the request of teachers to do that ... until the school is at capacity," board member Robin Rector said. "But then I think it becomes a little stickier. If the school is at capacity, then it does feel like we're doing something we shouldn't do if we let them in."

She also worried about the long-term ramifications the move could have -- even if only the appearance of impropriety.

"I guess I'm just afraid that I'm going to hear that it's a recruitment tool for teachers at GW ... they'll say if you're a teacher at GW you get to bring your kid to GW so teachers will come."

The board took no action on the issue. Superintendent Deurring will consider the discussion as he considers the item moving forward, or return to them for further action at a later meeting.

Contact writer Shay Maunz at shay.maunz@dailymail.com or 304-348-4886.

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