One family's case offers a glimpse into the problems of program
by Elizabeth Darling
Every morning at 6:30, Kathy Dang leaves her home in the Berryessa neighborhood of San Jose, drops off her son, Mike, at school, and drives to Palo Alto, where she and her husband run a tiny shop at the Stanford Barn. In the afternoon, Dang drives back to San Jose to pick up Mike from school and take him back to the Palo Alto shop where the family stays until 8 p.m. She also picks up her daughter, Diana, who is now attending Duveneck School in Palo Alto, but whose application to return next year had been denied by district staff.
"I appeal to you to allow my children" to transfer to Palo Alto schools, Dang asked the Palo Alto school board this week. Otherwise, she said, her children "would need care 14 hours a day" while she and her husband are at work.
"Our business will suffer when I have to leave," she said. "Every day (I) spend one and a half hours going to pick the kids up."
Although the school district staff had rejected the applications of both Dang children, the school board on Tuesday gave the family one more chance this week, asking Superintendent Jim Brown to review their case.
The case of the Dangs, who live in San Jose but run a business in Palo Alto, offers a glimpse into the circumstances of hundreds of families outside of Palo Alto who apply each year to send their children to Palo Alto schools.
"Every case is a heartbreaker," says Irv Rollins, director of educational support services for the Palo Alto district.
In addition to the Tinsley transfer program, which currently allows nearly 400 East Palo Alto and east Menlo Park students to attend Palo Alto schools, the district hosts about 100 other non-resident students known as "inter-district transfers."
So far this year, Palo Alto has received a total of 259 transfer requests. The district has approved 131 and denied 99. The 29 others were withdrawn. Also, 91 Palo Alto students chose to leave the district and attend schools in other districts, Rollins said.
Though it tries to limit the number of inter-district transfers it accepts, Palo Alto usually exceeds its own limit because of "extenuating circumstances," Rollins said, such as in the case of a student who might have been the victim of violence in another school district. Decisions on inter-district transfers are usually made behind closed doors.
Palo Alto resident Tomas Martin, who works upstairs from the Dangs' shop, spoke on behalf of the family at Tuesday's meeting. "Mike and Diana are truly exemplary kids," he said. "I urge you to reconsider. If somebody meets the hardship criteria, this family certainly does."
"I'm very concerned about this particular case," said Dawn Podell, a woman who patronizes the shop. "The choices are private education, public transportation or having surrogate parents for them."
In January, the Palo Alto school board voted to limit the total number of inter-district transfers to 110. The reasons are twofold. One is that, as a "basic aid" district, the district receives a constant sum of money that it must spread out over a growing number of students. The state reimburses the district for only about 2 percent of what it costs to educate each transfer student. The second is that with the Tinsley program (see related story on page 5), "we're doing a great deal in being an open enrollment district," said Rollins.
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