KENNEBUNK — Regional School Unit 21 has received 19 requests from Arundel parents to enroll their children at the Middle School of the Kennebunks this school year.

The RSU 21 Board of Directors last month decided that up to 45 students – 15 in each of the sixth, seventh and eighth grades – would be allowed to begin at the middle school in the fall. The numbers that have signed up – 11 sixth graders, five seventh graders and three eighth graders – represents about 12 percent of the town’s middle school population.

“Clearly, this is a sign that a portion of the population is eager to exercise its right to choose where to send their children to middle school. By its action, the Board is not looking to detract from Thornton Academy Middle School or its staff; we’re simply trying to provide parents who live in the district with the opportunity to choose the public school that exists within the district, and we’re pleased to be able to do that,” Superintendent Andrew Dolloff said in a statement. 

That decision to take Arundel middle schoolers this fall was described as a bridge to another board decision to buy out five years in the RSU’s middle school contract with Thornton Academy in Saco, effective June 30, 2011. Arundel and Thornton Academy negotiated the contract in 2004, before Arundel joined Kennebunk and Kennebunkport to form RSU 21. In the past school year, 145 of Thornton Academy’s middle school students were from Arundel.

The private academy has called the decision to take Arundel students at the Middle School of the Kennebunks this fall a circumvention of the contract.

An arbitrator is expected to hear the matter later this month. 

Middle schoolers from Arundel will still have the option of attending Thornton even after the contract ends.