Harwood’s seventh- and eighth-grade students will stay put for next year, but plans remain to eventually move them to Crossett Brook Middle School.

On Nov. 20, the school board voted against moving Harwood Union Middle School students to Crossett Brook next fall, even as it voted to affirm its previous decision to explore a design plan that would do exactly that at some point in the future.

The board voted Nov. 13 to explore a K-12 realignment plan that calls for closing Fayston Elementary School and moving Harwood Middle School students — as well as Moretown’s fifth- and sixth-graders — to Crossett Brook.

The Harwood decision for 2020-21 was on the agenda for Nov. 13, but was pushed to Nov. 20 after a three-hour discussion and ultimate decision regarding the realignment plan. At that meeting, however, educators spoke against moving Harwood middle school students to Crossett Brook.

“Please do not close schools,” said Greg Shepler, who has taught at Harwood for 30 years. “Please do not increase class sizes, particularly at the middle school.”

Shepler is also co-president of the Harwood Teachers Association; he presented results of a staff survey that included 86 respondents, in which 92 percent of staff said bigger class sizes are detrimental and 88 percent said closing a school is detrimental to education.

In addition, Harwood Middle students Estella Peterson and Greta Schaller — both of Moretown — implored the board not to move them and their fellow students to Crossett Brook. They handed the board a petition signed by 56 students who want to preserve the status quo.

“Crossett’s good too but we picked Harwood instead of Crossett when choosing where to go,” the two wrote in a subsequent letter to the editor.

Choice

In some ways, intradistrict choice was a driving factor in the proposal to move Harwood’s middle schoolers to Crossett Brook next year.

Since 2017, the number of choice requests has grown, from 32 applications for the 2017-18 school year to 35 for 2018-19 and 50 for 2019-20.

This year, 107 students — 5.9 percent of total enrollment — in the district are exercising choice.

Choice is available on a first-come, first-served basis, provided there is space in the receiving classroom and the transfer does not require hiring more staff.

This fall, the district has received 30 requests, with half of them asking to transfer from Harwood middle school to Crossett Brook.

In addition, parents of two children at Fayston — one in fourth grade, the other in fifth —asked to transfer them to Crossett Brook, which teaches students in grades five through eight.

In Warren, the parents of three children at the school — one fourth-grader and two fifth graders — have requested a transfer to Crossett Brook.

In total, Crossett Brook is the receiving school in 21 of the 30 requests received this far. Nobody has asked to transfer from Crossett Brook.

The migration is part of a larger trend; since the 2017 merger, Crossett Brook Middle School has gained 17 students through intradistrict choice, while Harwood Union Middle School has lost 11.

While the board did not vote to move Harwood’s middle schoolers to Crossett Brook, it did move to limit the voluntary migration of students. For the 2020-21 school year, the district will not approve new choice requests for students in grades seven and eight.

The move affects students who are requesting choice for the first time, while students who are currently in their first year will be grandfathered.

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