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

The RSU 21 board of directors decided last month that as many as 45 students — 15 in each in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades — would be allowed to begin attending the middle school in the fall.

The number of students who have signed up — 11 sixth-graders, five seventh-graders and three eighth-graders — represents about 12 percent of Arundel’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,” Superintendent Andrew Dolloff said in a prepared statement. “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.”

The board’s decision to take Arundel middle school students this fall was described as a bridge to another decision, to buy out five years of the school district’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 163 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 school students from Arundel will have the option of attending Thornton Academy even after the contract ends.

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:

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