After 43 years of unrestricted school choice, a new high school admissions policy is now in place for Portland Public Schools.

The Portland Public Schools Board of Education voted 5-2 Tuesday night to limit school choice. Board members Sarah Brydon and Abusana “Micky” Bondo voted against the resolution.

Portland High School, left, and Deering High School Press Herald staff file photos

This year’s eighth-graders, the Class or 2027, still will be able to choose between the district’s two largest high schools, but if student populations are not balanced the district will be able to shuffle students from one school to the other in order to make the student population sizes more equal.

The vote came after hours of discussion, two failed amendments and public comment urging the board not to pass the resolution.

For decades, Portland’s eighth-graders have been allowed to choose between attending Portland or Deering high schools, each of which is set up to enroll around 800 ninth- through 12th-graders. Students also can enter a lottery to attend Casco Bay High School, which opened in 2004 and enrolls 400 students.

But over the years, student interest in Portland and Deering has shifted back and forth, leading to oscillating enrollment numbers and diverging demographics. Currently, Deering is smaller and more diverse compared with Portland. The district says that shifts in student populations and demographics have made it challenging to anticipate resource and staffing need, and has created competition between the two schools and hindered collaboration.


But not everybody thinks that limiting school choice is the answer. At a school board meeting this month, around a dozen parents and Portland educators stood up to speak against the plan, saying they worried about students being separated from their friends, that limiting choice would push people out of the district and remove agency from families, that the resolution doesn’t get at the root causes of why students are choosing certain schools and that the district should spend more time considering this decision. More parents echoed those concerns Tuesday.

Even board members who voted in favor of the resolution said they were concerned that it did not address underlying causes of why students made the decision to attend either Deering or Portland.

Starting with this year’s eighth-graders students will go through the school choice process like they have for years: eighth-graders interested in Casco Bay will enter the lottery, then those who don’t get in will decide between Portland or Deering with the rest of their class. But then, if class sizes are not balanced, administrators can reassign students from the larger school to the smaller one by entering students without “diversity factors” into a lottery.

Students with diversity factors include those experiencing homelessness, students with individualized education plans, students who qualify for free and reduced lunch, and English language or multilingual learners.

The district said only students without these factors would be in the lottery because the district aims to center the needs of diverse students.

The district is working to make Deering and Portland more similar in terms of daily schedules and course offerings, with the stated goal of addressing some of the root causes leading to the enrollment disparity.

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