Detroit district’s transfer policy may be changed to reduce classroom disruption

Young children sit side by side at their desks in a classroom.
Frequent student transfers are a recurring problem in Detroit and other Michigan school districts. School officials in the Detroit Public Schools Community District are hoping to curb the trend with a new policy. (Erin Kirkland for Chalkbeat)

Detroit school district officials are proposing to standardize the transfer process for students and families looking to switch between district schools during the school year. 

Nikolai Vitti, superintendent of the Detroit Public Schools Community District, said the new policy guidance would help address possible disruptions to classroom learning if students consider leaving a school in the middle of the year, either because they are moving or dissatisfied with their current school. 

“What we’re trying to do is just create better guidelines overall to encourage families to transfer students at the beginning of quarters and beginning of semesters,” Vitti said at a DPSCD school board policy committee meeting Tuesday. “This will help teachers with just managing their classrooms. It’ll help principals and administrators create the right climate and culture.”

He added: “It doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t let students come and transfer at certain times if they’re new to the neighborhood, or there’s something unique happening in the family.”

The policy committee agreed to advance the policy draft to the next school board meeting on Nov. 14 for a first reading by the full board. All district policies must be reviewed by the board twice before they can be voted on.

Frequent school transfers have been a recurring problem in Michigan school districts, where state policy allows families to easily switch schools during the school year. Detroit families told Chalkbeat, Bridge Michigan and Outlier Media in a 2018 investigation on student mobility that they moved their children in part because of academic struggles, issues with school discipline, family moves, and new job opportunities.

About 11% of DPSCD students move between district schools in an average school year, according to Vitti. Roughly 30% move to different school districts.

In recent months, DPSCD officials have considered policies on administrative transfers, in which school officials initiate the move. In July, school board members approved an update to the district’s code of conduct that gives school officials more leeway to transfer students for misbehavior. The following month, the policy committee reviewed a proposal that would let officials at application schools request a student transfer to a neighborhood school if the student missed too many days and previous outreach efforts didn’t work.

The policy introduced at Tuesday’s meeting, however, is not intended to be punitive. Rather, it’s meant to improve communication with families about how and when to go through with a transfer. If it is approved, DPSCD officials would begin to notify families of the preferred transfer window via letters and phone calls. The policy does not specify how far in advance a student or their family should notify school officials about a transfer.

The policy would also not interfere with transfers to application or exam schools. Students who wish to transfer to those schools typically must do so during a specific application window. 

The proposed language was recommended by board members ahead of Tuesday’s policy meeting. Board members Misha Stallworth West and Iris Taylor both said they had received complaints from parents that there was unclear communication about student transfers. 

The transfer policy would overlap with the district’s current policies on school enrollment, transportation, and administrative transfers. According to those policies, students can be denied a transfer to a requested school based on enrollment capacity or program restrictions. Families are also responsible for bringing their students to and from a new school if they aren’t eligible for a school bus ride.

Ethan Bakuli is a reporter for Chalkbeat Detroit covering Detroit Public Schools Community District. Contact Ethan at ebakuli@chalkbeat.org.

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