The Appoquinimink school board voted unanimously last week to extend invitations to nearly 800 “school choice” students. About a quarter of those students live outside the district's feeder area and are currently attending schools elsewhere, district officials said.

More than 200 students living outside the Middletown-Odessa-Townsend area could be enrolled in schools throughout the Appoquinimink School District for the first time when the 2014-2015 school year begins.

The Appoquinimink school board voted unanimously last week to extend invitations to 798 “school choice” students out of the 849 applications it received – seeking 1,089 seats before the Jan. 9 deadline. 

About a quarter of those students who received invitations live outside the district’s feeder area and are currently attending schools elsewhere, district officials said.

The remaining invitations were extended to students who live in the M.O.T.-area and are seeking to enroll at a different Appoquinimink school than the one they currently attend, or the children of district staff who live outside the area but are already enrolled in a local school.

“The numbers are a little skewed because each choice student who applied was allowed to select up to three schools, so in some cases multiple invitations were sent to the same family,” said Jeff Klein, the school district’s coordinator of research, development and evaluation. “We also sent out more invitations than the number of seats available because we don’t expect all the applicants to accept their invitation.”

In November, the district had anticipated that a minimum of 465 seats in local schools could be made available to school choice students next year.

“We initially thought we would have fewer seats available and receive more applications, which would have meant turning more students down,” he said. “But, because this is our first year really dealing with school choice, it’s a whole new process and I’m not sure anyone really knew what to expect.”

Most districts in the state previously allowed students who live outside their feeder patterns to choice into their schools.

But for nearly two decades, Appoquinimink had denied most of the requests it received due to limited space availability, with exceptions made only for the children of district employees and students moving from one in-district school to another.

A state law passed by the Delaware General Assembly last summer required Appoquinimink to change that stance and open its schools to students who don’t live in its feeder area.

The law requires districts to accept students only at schools deemed to be at or below 85 percent of “instructional capacity,” a term that excludes non-classroom space and rooms currently dedicated to certain programs, such as world languages and computer labs.

Three out of every four school choice applications approved by the district this year came from students who live in the Appoquinimink feeder area or a staff member’s child who already attends school here.

But 208 were extended to students who will be able to enroll here only under the new rules.

Most of those students currently attend schools in the Christina and Colonial school districts or are currently home schooled or attend private schools.

Only two schools in Appoquinimink – Alfred G. Waters Middle and Louis L. Redding Middle – generate enough approved applications to result in waiting lists. Fifty-three students received invitations to attend Waters, while another 68 will be put on a waiting list. At Redding Middle, 26 student received applications, with 16 adding to a waiting list.

Of the 798 invitations emailed out last week, 114 were sent to students seeking to attend Cedar Lane Elementary, 98 went to students hoping to enroll at Bunker Hill Elementary, 86 for Old State Elementary, 75 to Appoquinimink High School, 70 to Olive B. Loss Elementary and 63 to Cedar Lane Early Childhood Center.

Fewer than 60 invitations were extended to students seeking to attend Middletown High, Everett Meredith Middle, Brick Mill Elementary, Silver Lake Elementary, Townsend Elementary, Spring Meadow Early Childhood Center and Townsend Early Childhood Center, respectively.

“Because students were able to identify three preferences, the number of invitations won’t necessarily translate to students who actually enroll,” Klein said. “Unfortunately, we have no way of knowing the exact number of school choice students at a given school until the March 21 deadline for students to accept or decline their invitation.”