Sag Harbor School Board Rejects New Residency Policy

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The main entrance to Pierson Middle-High School.

The Sag Harbor School Board on Monday sent the district’s administration back to the drawing board with its proposed new policy governing how and when it will verify if its students actually live within district boundaries and what to do when complaints and violations arise.

On a 3-2 vote that went against the recommendation of Superintendent Katy Graves, the board opposed implementing new rules just in time for the start of the school year on September 5. Instead the new rules — which were not vetted first by the district’s Policy Committee, in a break from the usual procedure — will now go to that committee for review.

Board members Chris Tice and Jordana Sobey voted in favor of the new policy, while board president January Kerr, vice president Diana Kolhoff and board member Susan Schaefer voted against it. Board member Susan Lamontagne was absent. Board member Alex Kriegsman, who was present via video conferencing for a discussion of the policy, did not take part in the vote due to technical difficulties.

Mr. Kriegsman objected to a provision in the policy that would distinguish renters from homeowners in the district. It would have required parents who showed a lease as proof of residency to provide proof of renewal within 90 days prior to the expiration date of the lease.

“I think it’s unfair,” Mr. Kriegsman said, “… and I think that would probably open us up to all sorts of lawsuits.”

Ms. Tice said the provision had been based on advice from the district’s attorney. But Ms. Kolhoff raised a larger issue of a potential negative impact the policy could have on children who may be forced to switch schools mid-year.

“I don’t see this rampant abuse of the residency policy. I hear a few people who are angry and very vocal,” she said. “I think instead what we need is a robust protocol of how things get investigated if there’s a suspicion. … There are so many unique residency situations. It shouldn’t be about certain populations producing more documentation. These are our classmates, our community members. I just think the whole tone is misguided.”

As the board debated potential changes to the policy, which is available to be publicly viewed via the district’s new online system at boarddocs.com/ny/sag/Board.nsf/Public, Ms. Graves advocated to retain the part that would require across-the-board re-verification of residency when children are in kindergarten and the third, sixth and ninth grades.

“Now you level the playing field for everybody,” Ms. Graves said. “We’re not targeting anyone.”

Ms. Kolhoff objected, saying it would wind up creating a lot more work for district employees, and that it wasn’t “in the spirit” of providing a free, public education for children.

Ms. Tice said kids are still entitled to a free education, but added, “They just need to get it where they’re living.”

“I am aware of abuse in this district that continues and I feel it is very unfair,” she said. “I don’t think it is fair that we have people going for free because we don’t have a strong policy.” 

School Board Formally Adds Safety and Security to Goals

Acknowledging what has become a priority in schools across the country, the Sag Harbor School Board added a goal of continuing to “strengthen the safety of our school district with the support of local and statewide partners” when it voted 5-0 to adopt goals for the 2018-19 school year on Monday.

“That will absolutely be our goal and continue to be our goal for years to come,” Superintendent Katy Graves said Wednesday.

The board also committed to transforming its previous “Diversity and Inclusion Subcommittee” into a full-fledged “Committee for Diversity, Inclusion and Excellence” to be able to provide a culturally responsive school atmosphere. Another goal is implementation of the “Middle Years PLANT” program, which Ms. Graves said is a more challenging academic approach for students in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades.

The board also spelled out goals of wrapping up its latest construction projects, revising a fundraising policy governing the way student clubs and their advisors generate money for activities, and finding new revenues via the former Stella Maris Regional School.

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