The Omaha Public Schools have overhauled the plan that dictates transportation and school choice options for high school students.
The OPS board on Tuesday night voted 7-2 to approve changes to the high school student assignment plan, which helps determine where a student attends school, their eligibility for transportation and their priority for school choice.
Board members Spencer Head and Nancy Kratky voted no on the changes. The student assignment plan was lasted updated in 2015, but those changes applied only to the elementary and middle schools.
The changes to the plan will go into effect in the 2022-23 school year when the district grows from seven high schools to nine. Two new high schools are under construction at 60th and L Streets and 156th and Ida Streets.
About 2,000 students who attend a non-neighborhood school will likely lose their transportation with the changes to the plan. District officials said those students would be contacted as early as this spring to try to mitigate the impact to families.
In addition, about 695 families of current eighth grade students who live in the new attendance areas for the two new high schools received letters that said their students would be required to transfer to the new high schools once they are opened.
That means some students will attend one high school for their freshman year and then will have to transfer for their sophomore year. Families that could be impacted currently live in the attendance areas for Bryan, South, Burke and Northwest High Schools.
Currently transportation to neighborhood schools is only provided at three of the district’s high schools, North, Northwest and South, said Casey Hughes, who works in the district’s research department. Students are only eligible for transportation to those schools if they live 3 miles away and about 1,700 students are eligible.
The new changes will create neighborhood transportation areas for each of the district’s nine high schools. Hughes said that generally those areas will be the farthest away from the school in each attendance area. About 1,800 students will be eligible for transportation to their neighborhood school under the new plan.
For transportation to non-neighborhood schools, OPS has grouped all high schools into three zones. A student would be eligible for transportation to the two other schools in the same zone as their neighborhood school.
The district has also added one additional partner high school option based on where the student lives.
Each student will have access to district-provided transportation to three non-neighborhood schools.
The school board also approved changes to the district’s student choice process.
Beginning in 2022-23, the district will prioritize neighborhood students first, and those students would be guaranteed a spot at their neighborhood high school.
The second prioritization would be for students who have a sibling at the high school. The third is for students who are applying to a partner school where they would be eligible for transportation. And fourth would be students who are applying to a non-partner school where they are not eligible for transportation.
With the new plan, Hughes said the district is anticipating transporting fewer students overall — potentially more students to their neighborhood school but fewer students to non-neighborhood schools.
“And it will be overall more efficient in terms of where those buses are picking students up and where they’re taking them to school,” Hughes said.
Head, the OPS board member, said he has been asked if the changes to the student assignment plan were forcing more students to attend their home school at a time when programmatic offerings at the high schools could be changing.
District officials said they are not trying to encourage more students to attend their neighborhood school.
Hughes said over the past decade OPS has gone from about half of the district’s students attending a non-neighborhood high school to about 40% as a result of the amount of space available in the schools.
Hughes said many of the high schools are at 100% capacity, which limits the ability for students to switch schools.
Hughes predicted that with the addition of two new high schools the district will see an increase in the number of students attending non-neighborhood schools in the coming years.
Board member Tracy Casady said district officials have tried to limit the number of people negatively affected. In a perfect world, she said, the district could bus every student to any school they want, but it’s not possible.
“This is as thoughtful and as transparent as we could get,” she said of the new plan.