GUILFORD — The school district is considering offering seats in the Open Choice program to students living in New Haven beginning in the 2024-25 school year.
At a Board of Education meeting on Monday, Superintendent Paul Freeman said the district would aim to open seats to “a small cohort” of first-graders in the fall of 2024. The next year, the district would open seats in the new first-grade class, as well as the fifth grade. The following year, the district would open seats in first grade, fifth grade and ninth grade.
“It would allow us to spend one year training, one year keeping a really small group of one and doing it well, then a group of three and doing it well, and making sure that we grew it thoughtfully,” Freeman said.
Lynn Bailey, coordinator for Open Choice at Area Cooperative Educational Services, which runs the program with New Haven, said there are currently 101 students from the city attending school in 12 suburban districts.
New Haven students who want to attend a school in the suburbs are able to fill out a form indicating their top three districts. They are then placed in a district through a lottery system.
“We always get more applications than we get kids,” Bailey said. “I’m constantly getting calls from parents asking, ‘What do you think my chances are?’”
The Open Choice program also allows students from suburban districts to attend school in New Haven — this year, 51 students from suburban districts are attending city schools.
Guilford would be the furthest eastern district to become part of the Open Choice program with New Haven.
Freeman said the district would look to fill seats at schools where there were already spaces within classrooms, and was considering opening seats for five to nine families next year.
“There’s no intention of adding staffing or carrying staffing that we wouldn’t otherwise have for local Guilford residents,” he said.
Districts that receive Open Choice students currently receive between $3,000 and $8,000 per pupil through a state grant, depending on how many they accept. The state will also cover transportation costs from New Haven to Guilford.
Several board members asked whether transportation would hinder high school students from participating in after-school clubs or sports. Bailey said that while they provide a late bus, it departs at 4:30 p.m. regardless of whether there is an event at the school.
“We can’t keep going back and forth, the transportation costs are astronomical,” Bailey said.
But Bailey explained that students have been able to participate in these events through a combination of staying at friends’ houses for a late event or parents providing their own transportation.
“We’ve had families in district welcome the Open Choice students into their home. Let them sleep overnight if there’s a play and it gets done late and parents can’t go out,” Bailey said.
Board member Kristy Faulkner raised concerns about special education costs, and what would happen if Guilford and New Haven disagreed about the proper course of action for a special education student.
Under current law, the sending district — in this case, New Haven — is responsible for paying for special education costs for any student that lives in the city.
While Bailey said it was difficult to track students who have completed the Open Choice program, she said the program’s graduation rate was between 98 and 99 percent.
And Freeman highlighted the potential benefits for students in Guilford.
“I think literature does suggest that it may be a benefit for the New Haven students who have the opportunity to attend some of our goals schools, but it’s also a benefit for the students who live in Guilford, to have experiences with other children who don’t necessarily grow up in Guilford or come from more diverse backgrounds,” he said.
Freeman added that the district would discuss the Open Choice program further at future board meetings.