November 3,  2008

Large throng files for school
choice in Brandywine

More than an estimated 300 parents and members of students' families were on hand when Brandywine School District began accepting applications for the 2009-10 academic year under the state school-choice law.  

At 7 a.m. on Nov. 3 the queue wound around the parking lot at the district office and stretched down the driveway to Radnor Green. That development was clogged with cars and vans parked on both sides of the streets for several blocks around the extension of Pennsylvania Avenue which serves as access to the Brandywine lot. Vehicle access to the lot itself for the general public was blocked

"It's been very orderly. People are following the rules," said Barbara Meredith, a district administrator.

A crowd waits in line by the dawn's early light  to enter the Brandywine district administration building to file 'choice' applications. Inside, superintendent Jim Scanlon (standing) supervises the process of accepting the applications.

District superintendent Jim Scanlon said the process of accepting applications was going "as well as could be expected."

The turnout was not unexpected.

At the conclusion of the current academic year, Darley Road Elementary and Hanby Middle Schools will be closed. Intermediate schools will be eliminated with elementary schools being extended to include fourth and fifth grades and middle schools adding sixth grades. P.S. du Pont Intermediate will become a middle school and Claymont and Harlan will become elementary schools.

As a result, attendance areas were redrawn and residents of several neighborhoods found that their children would be assigned to schools other than the ones to which youngsters from their neighborhood had historically been assigned.

It could not be determined by random conversations with those standing in line which schools were favorite 'choice' destinations and which, if any, were being shunned.

The school board in September approved a one-year change in policy which moved the opening of the application period from 8 a.m. to 7 a.m. on the first business day in November. Doors to the Brandywine administration building were opened about 20 minutes earlier than scheduled. State law sets the end of business on the second Wednesday in January as the deadline for submitting applications. In 2009 that will be Jan. 14. The law does not specify a beginning for the application period.

A week earlier, Scanlon ruled that no person would be permitted to submit applications for members of more than three families. In an e-mail he had said that was in response to reports that some people were offering to serve as proxies for several families and some of those were charging a fee to do so.

At that time, Scanlon also requested that no one 'camp out' overnight.

Members of the school district staff assist waiting parents and family members complete the required 'choice' paperwork. Meanwhile, resident of Radnor Green awoke to find the streets in their neighborhood clogged with vehicles belonging to those who came to file 'choice' applications.

Several people disregarded that request. Dee Stanley told Delaforum that she had come at 9 a.m. on Nov. 2, and waited almost 22 hours to 'choice' her daughter into Springer Middle instead of going to Talley Middle. As it happened, someone had arrived earlier and she ended up second in line, Stanley said.

She said about 30 people spent the entire night, by midnight that number had doubled and it had redoubled by 4 a.m.

Actually, the 'choice' process will not be completed until the school board acts on the applications in February. They will be processed according to a hierarchy of priorities set by the board in September. At the top are those displaced by the school closures. The number to be accepted depends on capacities of the schools.

The procedure which was adopted specifies that applications are to be processed in the order in which they are received.

"That's the way we've always done it," Scanlon said.

A first-come-first-served arrangement, he added, is fairer than a random selection would be and, with a large number of changes for the coming year, will result in "more people getting their choice."

This will be the only time those who are successful will have to go through the process. As long as academic standards are met, a student remains 'choiced' to a given school through all its grades.

Get more information about this topic

Read previous Delaforum article: 'Choice' seats will be harder to come by in Brandywine

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