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Alexandria City Public Schools redistricting plans could axe controversial school placement regulation

Students get on school buses at Alexandria City High School’s Minnie Howard Campus (staff photo by James Cullum

Alexandria’s School Board is starting to kick off plans for redistricting and some of the early discussion has been around a unique and controversial placement regulation in Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS): capacity reassignments.

Capacity reassignments allow the superintendent to put caps on the number of students at a school and reassign students to other schools if that limit is reached.

According to the ACPS regulations:

Each year by April 1, the Superintendent will publicly present the projected number of students by school and by grade level for the following school year. The Superintendent and School Board will review proposed class size caps and the number of homeroom sections for each school at each grade level during the budget process each spring.

Under certain conditions listed in Policy JC/JCD, the Superintendent may place restrictions limiting the assignment of elementary students to a particular school or grade level based on capacity. If an enrollment limit for a grade level is reached, the Superintendent or authorized designee may reassign elementary students to the school closest to the student’s residence where there is capacity. Because ACPS transportation resources and utilization impact placement procedures, “school closest to the student’s residence” is determined by the shortest driving distance (mileage).

Capacity reassignments move students away from the schools closest to them to cut down on classroom sizes.

At a work session last week, staff told the Redistricting Steering Committee that one of the suggestions in this year’s redistricting discussion is the elimination of capacity reassignments, noting that no other school division has a system like ACPS’.

School Board member Abdel Elnoubi said eliminating capacity reassignments would require a different set of solutions, like trailers at schools.

“We continue to not want to put that idea on the table,” Elnoubi said. “We can’t have it both ways. If we’re going to eliminate capacity assignments, we need to be open to other solutions… we need to start thinking creatively.”

Elnoubi also said removing class size caps would increase inequity in Alexandria schools.

“Heck no, I would never support removing class size caps,” Elnoubi said. “This is going to increase inequities.”

School Board member Meagan Alderton said the School Board will have to make unpopular decisions to address capacity issues.

“I feel like our biggest problem when you look at all of these things: we don’t want to change with the times,” said Alderton. “We want to stay a small town. We love our little city on the hill, but that’s not where we are. We are continuously trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, and this is why we’re having all these issues.”

Alderton said School Board members “have to take the heat over something.”

Policy revisions are the focus of the Redistricting Steering Committee this spring. From Aug. 2024 to May 2025, options will be developed and ACPS will gather community feedback. Recommendations are scheduled to come back to ACPS for a vote sometime between June-December 2025.

Once the new redistricting policies are approved, families will be notified of the impact between January and July 2026, with the new boundaries implemented for the 2026-2027 school year.

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