School choice (also called student assignment) is how Lee County School District students are assigned to schools each year.
However, students and parents don’t always get their first choice — which can cause problems for families.
“I’ve got 3 kids going to three different schools and I work in Downtown Naples,” Becky Ghannam, from Estero,
said. “I want to provide the best life I can for my kids.” In the next academic year, Becky will have one kid in elementary school, one kid in middle school, and another in high school. “Logistically it’s a little bit of a hot mess for me,” she said.
Her and he daughter’s first choice for high schools was Estero High. That high school is the closest. However, they got their fourth option, South Fort Myers High.
Because of this, Becky started a petition against the student assignment process.
The process was established in 2004 and put in place because of a lawsuit involving desegregation in Lee County schools years earlier.
“Historically it was about desegregation,” Rob Spicker with the Lee County School District said. “Currently it’s more about the choice.”
“You’re ranking the school by your choice,” he said. “The lottery decides what school you get to go to.”
Becky’s petition against the current process has over 250 signatures after just two weeks.
“A lot of people are contacting me telling their stories,” she said. “I think a lot of people out there have a story that the system has failed them and their families.”
For perspective, the school district has 93,167 students across 120 schools.
“85 percent got their first choice school, and 95 percent got a school in their first, second, or third choice,” Rob said. “You are automatically placed on the waiting list of your number one choice.”
However, parents in the same situation as Becky can file a hardship waiver. The decision for their kid will then be reviewed by the student assignment office.
“Everyone just kind of goes along with it and I think it’s time we stand up and tell our story, and say why this is not working,” she said.
However, the current system also has value. It allows kids outside a school’s normal area to go there if they are interested in a specialized school such as an arts school or a school with IB programs.
“[The parents] are telling us that they like the freedom, the options, and the programs at different schools,” Rob said. “The feedback from them are what keeps it in place.”