Fair Lawn Soft Borders


In some communities, a “soft borders” policy is framed as a last resort to address overcrowding concerns. Also, there are arguably ways to implement a “soft borders” policy more equitably and still effectively (relative to the version of the policy proposal posted online on February 23, 2017).

For example, the proposed “soft borders” policy could be modified as follows:

  1. For the first year of implementation, families would be invited for voluntary re-assignment only. Some families might choose to send their children to a different elementary school, especially if it promises smaller class sizes or other “value added” features. A “pilot” year of testing this policy change could be in place before introducing more extreme provisions for involuntary placement.

  1. The policy could be revised to apply only to people who move to Fair Lawn after some reasonable future date (e.g., July 1, 2017). That way, all families affected by this policy will have had the opportunity to know about the “soft borders” policy before it goes into effect. (Under the current policy, current residents whose oldest child will not enter kindergarten before the fall of 2018 would be vulnerable to re-assignment.)

  1. The policy be adopted with a clearer path forward on a longer-term solution and that the intended “short-term” nature of the policy be written into the policy itself. For example, the policy could specify a specific time period during which “soft borders” would begin and end, requiring the Board to revote on the policy if in need of an extension.

  1. The policy be revised such that the superintendent does not have unilateral control over which specific children are to be involuntarily relocated. For example, the policy could include additional language with more explicit guidelines to ensure fairness and transparency in these decisions. It also might include provisions for a lottery system among all eligible households to ensure that everybody affected has an equal chance of being selected for involuntary re-assignment.

Here is a developing list of other alternatives and suggestions:

- Do not move forward with “soft borders” until there is more information and public discussion concerning a longer-term solution, such as the feasibility, costs, funding mechanisms and timelines for (a) reopening the Edison School building (as a kindergarten center or k-5 elementary school), (b) adding classrooms or floors to the existing Milnes and Radburn school buildings, and (c) repurposing other school or municipal buildings for administrative offices or bringing in portable buildings for administrative purposes rather than classrooms. (Administrative offices are currently housed in a portion of the Edison School building.)

- Accommodate increasing enrollment in Milnes and Radburn through measures instead of “soft borders,” such as (a) placing additional certified teachers or paraprofessionals in larger classrooms and dividing work in groups to accommodate larger classes, (b) staggered scheduling, (c) different start and end times for students, and (d) repurposing existing rooms in Milnes and Radburn as classrooms to ease increased student enrollment.

- Convene a voluntary task group of key stakeholders and private citizens to convene regularly for at least six months to identify, discuss, and communicate on a variety of courses of action in response to unequal enrollment numbers across municipal elementary schools. Have the task force (a) procure a high-quality analysis concerning the advantages and disadvantages of each course of action, (b) present this information to the community at large through various communication channels and solicit feedback, and (c) deliver recommendations to the Fair lawn Board of Education by the end of calendar year 2017. The Board would then deeply consider the recommendations from the task force before voting on any changes.

- As a longer-range strategy, pass a resolution requiring developers to pay into a school construction fund to prevent future overcrowding in existing school buildings.

Last updated: February 27th 2017 8AM
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