December 6, 2012
Students with long travel times to school may soon find it easier to learn close to home.
For years, the city has not allowed students to transfer high schools because of travel time unless their commute is longer than 90 minutes. But the Department of Education wants to reduce the required length by 15 minutes, according to a proposed rule change that was released today.
In another proposed rule change, students who seek to switch schools for safety reasons will no longer have to justify their request with a police report. Instead, according to the proposal, the department will consider transfer requests from students who are bullied or harassed at school.
Advocates praised the proposals, which face a school board vote later this month. It will also be welcome news for students whose long commute times were not enough to qualify for a transfer under existing department policies.
“I think a 90-minute commute is unrealistic,” said Insideschools editor Clara Hemphill. Many students voluntarily commute long distances to attend schools of their choice, “but to require them to do it ridiculous.”
The open high school admissions process allows middle school students to pick which high school they’d like to attend, but “a lot of kids sign up for schools not realizing how far away it is,” said Hemphill, whose web site helps families navigate the public school system. Once they realize the length of the commute, it’s usually too late to change schools.
Hemphill said long commute times is a contributing factor to chronic absenteeism.
The shortened 75-minute minimum commute time is still more than double what the average New Yorker’s commute is. But the time a student saves if he transferred to a school closer to the 35-minute average adds up to 10 days over the course of a school year.
Obtaining a transfer became increasingly difficult in 2003, when the city switched its high school admissions process to a system that matched students to schools based on mutual preference. Before then, a student could transfer if the schools’ two principals agreed to it.
The admissions system gave students more choice over which schools they wanted to attend, but the department was less flexible for those seeking to switch schools after they started. Transfers are granted in a handful of extreme scenarios: long commutes, a health issue or a safety risk.
The city is also revising the way that safety transfer requests will be considered. Now, “harassment, intimidation, and bullying are expressly made grounds for a safety transfer,” according to the proposed changes.
The Panel for Educational Policy, which has never rejected a city proposal, will vote on Dec. 20.