The Riverside Elementary School District 96 Board of Education is considering getting rid of fixed attendance zones for its four elementary schools. 

School board President Jeff Miller is suggesting the district move to a system that assigns kindergarten students to a school based largely on proximity and class size without fixed attendance zones.

“Where the kindergarten students live is going to vary from year to year, so if you’re trying to get sort of equal class sizes … you have to sort of adjust the boundaries in any given year,” Miller said.

Assignment of kindergarten students to schools would be made by using a common algorithm, a set of mathematical calculations, designed to minimize the walking distance to school for the most students. 

Such a system is used in the Belmont-Redwood Shores School District in California. Miller said District 96 could use the same algorithm.

“The algorithm can easily figure out the best way to allocate students,” Miller said. “Where if you did it by hand it would be much more difficult.”

Once a student attends kindergarten at a school, the child would stay at that school through fifth grade, as is done now. Kindergarten students who have older siblings at an elementary school would also retain the right to attend that school, Miller said.

The goal of the new approach would be to most efficiently use the district’s classroom space and to minimize the distance to school for the most students.

If the new policy is adopted by the board, it would be a shift in expectations for parents, who won’t know for sure if their children will go to the neighborhood elementary school.

The idea of getting rid of attendance zones in District 96 is not new. A preliminary report issued in 2002 by a long-range planning committee called for a flexible boundary policy that included only a fixed attendance zone for Hollywood School in Brookfield.

But the district ultimately kept attendance zones, although the zones do not guarantee the right to attend that school. Since 2002, the district has operated under a flexible boundary policy, which has fixed attendance zones for elementary schools but which can be overridden by class size considerations. 

If students in one school’s attendance zone register after the class-size goals are reached, they can be assigned to another school outside their attendance zone. 

The district’s policy, which is often waived, is to have class sizes of no more than 20 students in kindergarten through third grade and no more than 23 students in fourth and fifth grade. 

Under the current policy, incoming kindergarten students residing in the fixed attendance zone for each elementary are assigned to that school until the class-size caps are reached. After that they can be assigned to another elementary school with fewer incoming kindergarten students.

This year Hollywood School has a kindergarten class of 21 students. Ames and Central schools each have one section of kindergarten with 20 students as well as two other kindergarten sections of fewer than 20 students.

The largest classes in the district’s elementary schools are the third-grade class at Hollywood School and the fifth-grade class at Blythe Park School, which each have 25 students.

School officials have been trying to emphasize that students reside in the district rather than a particular school, and have moved kindergarten registration to the district office rather than having parents register their kindergarteners at a particular school.