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Union County school board will review policy that limits access to its magnet schools

UC Early College sign.jpeg
Union County Early College
Union County Early College is one of the UCPS schools that usually has more applicants than seats.

In December the Union County school board quietly revised its lottery for special programs to exclude students who aren't currently enrolled in the district. The board will reconsider Tuesday after parents complained that's unfair to families who choose charter, private or home schools.

The lottery for special programs — known as magnet schools in many districts — begins next month. If tradition holds, demand will be especially high for the Central Academy of Technology and Arts, a magnet high school in Monroe, and Union County Early College, on the campus of South Piedmont Community College.

Board Chair Melissa Merrell says the fierce competition for those seats means a lot of applicants don’t get in.

"And it was becoming very concerning and Union County Public Schools families and students were, you know, getting very upset that they had been with us for all these years and were not getting in through the lottery system," Merrell said.

Before last year’s lottery, the board gave a lottery preference to students currently enrolled in the district. But Merrell says a significant number of this year’s freshmen are still students who attended other types of schools the year before.

So in December, the board revised the policy to say only students enrolled in UCPS can enter the lottery. It was part of the consent agenda on Dec. 7, which means it was approved in one vote with 20 other items deemed not to need public discussion.

The new policy shuts out someone like Grace Warren’s son, who’s an eighth-grader at Union Prep Academy, a K-8 charter school in Indian Trail. The school normally holds an event for eighth-graders to learn about their high school options, but Warren says this year it was canceled.

Her son can still return to Union County Public Schools next year, but he can't opt in to any of the magnet programs unless he transfers to UCPS by next month, in the middle of his eighth-grade year.

"I don’t know why they’re choosing this policy and wanting to push that," Warren said. "But I know that it’s not right for the kids, and that’s the bottom line for me. They’re all kids. They all deserve an equal opportunity to be able to apply to these schools."

Lindalyn Kakadelis, director of the North Carolina Coalition for Charter Schools, wrote to the board calling the new policy unfair, inequitable and ill-timed. She asked for reconsideration in January.

Merrell says that will happen, and if the majority agrees, a system can still be set up to take applications from all students in the county.

View letter from the North Carolina Coalition for Charter Schools below.

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Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.