Portland High School  Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer, file

A decision by Portland’s Board of Education to limit the ability to choose high schools was sharply criticized by some parents watching the meeting online Tuesday night.

“The school board removing choice will continue to fracture the city!!!” wrote Patty Skerrit, commenting while the meeting was being live streamed on Facebook. “Listen to the residents.”

The reaction was more muted from middle school parents and students at King Middle School on Wednesday, although some also expressed disappointment or concern about the new policy.

One eighth-grader who heard about the change from a teacher said it seemed unfair that students before him got to choose which high school they wanted to attend without fear of being moved, while he would not be guaranteed the same choice. Other students, however, said they hadn’t thought about which high school they wanted to go to or that high school wasn’t on their radar at all yet.

After 43 years of unrestricted school choice in Portland, the school board voted Tuesday to change the district’s high school admissions policy. In the new system, which will be applied beginning with this year’s eighth-graders, students will still be able to declare a choice between Portland and Deering high schools, as Portland students have done for decades. However, the district is now allowed to move some randomly chosen ninth-graders from one school to another to balance population size and demographic makeup between the two schools.

The district has said that the administration needs this power so that it can ensure consistent populations at its two largest high schools from year to year and to better anticipate resource and staffing needs.


In a presentation on the matter this month, district officials said they would like to see no greater than a 30-person difference in class size between Portland and Deering. Over the past five years, students’ school preference switched from Deering to Portland. Last year, Portland’s freshman class had 69 more students than Deering’s. This year, Portland’s freshman class has 40 more students than Deering’s, 216 to 176. Overall, Portland has 958 students this year and Deering has 723, a difference of 235.

King Middle School in Portland Derek Davis/Staff Photographer, file

The board passed the resolution on a 5-2 vote with Sarah Brydon and Abusana “Micky” Bondo voting against it.


At King on Wednesday, most parents and students interviewed said they didn’t know about the policy change, and those who did, didn’t seem to have very strong feelings about it.

One parent, Ifrah Mosamud, knew about the change and said she was concerned that if her children didn’t end up at the same high school it would be challenging for her to get them to and from school. The board addressed that concern in the final resolution it passed on Tuesday. The board resolution says students who request to be at the same school as a sibling will not be included in the lottery to select the students who would be reassigned.

In cases where the student populations at Deering and Portland are not even and the district chooses to move students to balance them out, only students without “diversity factors” will be included in the pool of students who could be moved. 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 moderate response from parents and students at King was a stark contrast to the heated reaction from parents who spoke at the board meeting and who commented on the plan online during the live stream.

“No one wants this but the board,” Megan McCarthy Chason wrote in the Facebook chat.

“Forcing kids to go to a school they don’t prefer doesn’t solve the problem,” wrote another commenter, Stephanie Albert. “Make them both excellent schools that families are enthusiastic about.”

Deering High School in Portland Press Herald file photo

The district said only students without diversity factors would be in the lottery because the district aims to center the needs of diverse students. But the exclusion of students with diversity factors drew some criticism.

“As I spoke before, it really doesn’t make sense to me that if you’re homeless, you’re free and reduced lunch, have an IEP or you’re an English-language learner that you get your first choice,” Ann Marie Gribbin-Bouchard said during the public comment period before the vote. “Let’s all remember the definition of discrimination: the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex; this will be discrimination against the population that doesn’t fit this criteria.”



“This is beyond maddening and frustrating,” Patty Skerritt wrote in the chat. “There are many wonderful children who don’t meet the diversity criteria and you are tossing them out.”

Other parents commenting in the chat said they felt like the district was not taking enough time to mull over this decision, not listening to the community and not making the best decision for Portland students.

Board members too, including some of those who voted in favor of the resolution, had their qualms with it. Sarah Brydon offered up an alternative to the resolution and Ben Grant suggested an amendment to it.

Brydon’s amendment was focused on the idea that the resolution did not look at the root issue and why one school is more popular than the other.

She suggested the district work to align the school’s schedules and curriculums, give students an option to indicate that they don’t have a preference between Deering and Portland and work to expand programming similar to that offered at Casco Bay, the district’s third high school, which enrolls 100 students per grade and often cannot accept all the students who wish to attend. She hoped that these changes could help avoid unbalanced school populations and having to move students against their will altogether.

Grant’s amendment would have brought the question of shifting students back to the board on an annual basis after student selections were complete instead of giving the district administrators sole power to move students within the guardrails outlined by the resolution. Then the board would work with the superintendent to figure out if and how to move students to maintain equivalent programming and efficiency at both schools and ensure the maximum number of students possible can go to the school they chose.

Both amendments failed.

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