Younger siblings of magnet school students will no longer receive first dibs at open first-grade slots in the magnet program.

Younger siblings of magnet school students will no longer receive first dibs at open first-grade slots in the magnet program.

The Westerville Board of Education voted Jan. 24 to undo the sibling-preference policy they created at the recommendation of the administration last year.

The sibling-preference policy allowed first-graders to enroll in the same magnet school their older siblings already attended without going through the traditional lottery system. It was in place for this school year only.

The board chose not to include a "grandfather" clause in the changed policy that would have allowed families who entered the magnet school program this year to reap the benefits of the sibling-preference policy. Proponents of the policy had asked the school board to consider a grandfather clause.

The recommendation to return to a traditional lottery came from a "magnet school collaborative" put in place by the district's administration last fall to discuss the issue.

The sibling-preference policy garnered a fair amount of attention from families in the magnet program and families hoping to enter the program.

Before the board vote on Monday, members of the public asked the board to consider upholding the sibling-preference policy.

Those in favor of sibling preference argued that families benefit when both children are at the same school because it makes it easier to pick up and drop children off at school, get to know other families and keep track of school events. They said the schools also benefit because families are fully invested in the school all of their children attend.

"Sibling priority was done right. It wasn't some back-door deal. It was well reasoned out. There were facts behind it," parent Luke Davis said. "We've had one year. We don't even know with past data, how many seats went to students with the lottery."

Parents of magnet school students also said reversing the sibling-preference policy equated to the district breaking a promise to parents of magnet school students.

"I feel we were sort of given a gift as a magnet parent, and then it was taken away immediately before giving it a chance to see if it would work," Becky Chaney said.

Opponents of sibling preference have said at previous board meetings that the policy gives an unfair advantage to families who are initially lucky in the lottery system. They said an open lottery is the best way to allow equal access to the magnet programs.

The school board ultimately agreed with the sibling-preference opponents, with members commenting that the lottery was the best way to provide equal opportunity to students.

"To me, it is about equality and making sure there is an opportunity for everyone in the district, not just a specialized group," board president Kristi Robbins said.

Board members said there is a perception that magnet schools are superior to the district's traditional elementary schools, but that is not the case. All schools are held to the same standards, they said, and the magnet schools are meant to provide families with educational choices.

"We're providing our families with choices and what they want to do with their family, and also providing an equal opportunity for all of our family," board member Denise Pope said. "Everyone's family is different. It's about options."

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