Austin ISD parents fighting transfer denials to keep students at Maplewood Elementary

Maplewood Elementary School is located in Central Austin at 3808 Maplewood Ave., Austin. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)
Maplewood Elementary School is located in Central Austin at 3808 Maplewood Ave., Austin. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)

Maplewood Elementary School is located in Central Austin at 3808 Maplewood Ave., Austin. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)

Fourteen Austin ISD families who have children currently enrolled at Maplewood Elementary School’s pre-K program have one last opportunity May 14 to ask district leaders to allow their students to continue at the school next year.

The families—who are not zoned to Maplewood but were each accepted into the school's pre-K program for the current school year—in April were denied transfer requests into the school for next year, a move they said in a joint letter is contrary to what district staff had told them this winter.

“We feel like we were just mislead the entire time,” parent Craig Jacobs told Community Impact Newspaper. “Being told one thing and delivered another is a hugely frustrating and disappointing ending for us.”

In December, AISD added Maplewood, located at 3808 Maplewood Ave. in Central Austin, to its list of schools closed to transfer students. Schools can be closed to transfers due to enrollment capacity restrictions, programming limitations or planned campus construction, Director of Student Services Andri Lyons said in a statement to Community Impact Newspaper on May 12.

According to Lyons, new regulations by the district in 2019 allow pre-K transfer students to roll into kindergarten at their current campus unless the campus is frozen to transfers.

However, according to the letter by parents, Maplewood and AISD administration this winter encouraged parents to apply for a transfer into the school and implied the transfers would be successful. On Jan. 17, an email from the district’s elementary school leadership team stated students already enrolled into the pre-K program should not have to apply to stay at the school, even if the school had been closed to transfer applications. Parents chose to apply anyway to secure their students’ spot.

"We went through the transfer process last year and got in,” Jacobs said. “Our understanding during the application was that if you got in for pre-K, you were in kind of for life. This winter we were told the application process was not even necessary, and at that point we felt secure for next year.”

Beginning in April, the transfer requests were denied by the district. Appeals of the ruling to Associate Superintendent Gilbert Hicks and Superintendent Paul Cruz have since been denied.

The AISD board of trustees will hear final appeals in executive session May 14. Over the past three years, the board has taken action on 29 transfer request or appeals and has sided with the parents three times, according to meeting minutes since 2017.

According to the district, the only criterion typically considered for transfer appeals to frozen schools is space at the campus. For non-frozen schools, the district considers a student's position on the school's waitlist as well as any extenuating circumstances on a case by case basis.

“The ultimate appeal is to the board which, there's always hope I supposed, but there's not much,” Jacobs said. “The most upsetting thing is for our daughter. She loves that school. It's the only school she's ever known, and that will all just be ripped away from her.”

He said because of the assurances his family received early in the transfer process, they have not yet made backup plans for next year. With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and campuses closed, Jacobs said he is uncertain how his family will be able to safely visit schools and meet with teachers prior to August.

Lyons said parents can contact the associate superintendents’ offices about opportunities to visit campuses this summer. Parents have the option to request a transfer to a different school that is not frozen to transfer students.

The situation at Maplewood is the second this year in AISD regarding district communications about student transfers. This winter, families at closing Pease Elementary School were told by some district employees they would be allowed to transfer into any school they chose in the district, including those frozen to transfers.

However, that assurance was in contrast to the district’s standing transfer policy, and district administration ultimately denied transfer requests by over 100 families to schools that had previously been frozen. After Pease parents spoke at a board meeting Feb. 24, trustees asked administration to work with parents to help them find a solution. Trustees also directed staff to look at transfer requests equitably by basing decisions on standing district policy.

For Maplewood families, the May 14 meeting is the last opportunity they have to keep their students at the school.

"We're not left with a lot of confidence in the district, and I'm not totally sure I want to sign up for this again this year,” Jacobs said. “We were given a list of some schools open to transfers in the district; we've looked briefly into some private options and some charter options, and maybe that's an option for next year.”