School District Quietly Scales Back Tours As It Pushes Parents To Accept New Assignments

Parents will get fewer chances to see students in action
This is the time of year when Seattle Public Schools enrolls students for the fall, and normally the district offers a bevy of school tours that allow families to see classrooms in action. Not this year.

Parents who look at the district Website will likely be surprised to find no mention of school tours. Instead, the district has published a schedule of open houses to be held in the evenings and on Saturdays--not during the school day, when parents would get an opportunity to observe actual teaching.

Some tours will still happen, although they have been confusingly renamed "visits." But many schools will only offer one or two, instead of four or five or more, as used to be the case. The district has made this change quietly and without explanation. The reason is clear, though: The district wants parents to accept whatever school they're given under the new assignment plan without looking around further.

Hamilton Middle School will only have one tour
Hamilton International Middle School Principal Christopher Carter says as much in a recent e-mail to a parent who had inquired about tour dates. The school will only be holding one open house and one tour, he wrote, because the new assignment plan means that "students living within the neighborhood boundaries will be assigned to Hamilton. Thus, the need to host school tours is minimized."

"I understand the desire and anticipation to want to see the school in action but tours are extremely time consuming and can be quite disruptive," Carter continued.

The district, which first denied to SW that it is scaling back tours, later conceded that it is doing so after being told about principal remarks like Carter's. "We believe that as the new assignment plan is implemented, the need that families feel to visit multiple schools will probably decrease," said spokesperson Patti Spencer-Watkins.

But that's not necessarily the case. Under the plan, which attempts to bring back neighborhood schools, students at the end of February will receive a preliminary assignment based upon where they live. (Geography also determined assignments under the old plan, but based upon a more complicated system that took into account families' choices.) Still, families can then ask for a different school, which will be considered according to space availability. So many families will still want to see more than one school.

But even parents who accept their kids' assignments will now have fewer opportunities to check out those schools. It's a foolish strategy for the district, which is missing out on the chance to make parents feel good about their assignments and get behind the new plan. Instead, the district is giving parents the message that they're stuck with what they get, like it or not.

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