Some schools crowded despite COVID-19

[Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]

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Posted March 12, 2021 | By Ainslie Lee, Ocala Gazette | Photography by Bruce Ackerman

[Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]

Despite coronavirus protocols and quarantines, some Marion County schools are filled to the brim.

“This is nothing new,” Kevin Christian, spokesperson for Marion County Public Schools said. “We deal with over-capacity schools every year.”

Marion County Public Schools let students choose their own school, to a point. The school system allows open enrollment until the school reaches 90% capacity. The rest of the space is left for those who might move into the area during the school year.

Marion County’s School Choice option allows students to apply to attend a school out of their zoning if the out-of-zone school offers a distinctive program that isn’t offered at their respective school.

“You have to apply for some kind of program or career technical education academy,” Christian said. “Something that that school offers that your home school doesn’t offer… You can’t just on a whim say I want to go there to play sports. That’s not how school choice works.”

But some schools are over capacity.

“We have some schools at 112% capacity,” Christian said.

According to Christian, once a school reaches 90% of capacity, it becomes closed to school choice and other attendance options. And should it be necessary, portable buildings can be brought to campus to facilitate more classroom space.

There are currently nine schools in Marion County with student populations that have eclipsed 100% of the school’s capacity, Christian said.

Ocala Springs Elementary, Eighth Street Elementary, Maplewood Elementary, Liberty Middle, Osceola Middle, Belleview Middle, West Port High, Dunnellon High and Belleview High each have populations exceeding 100%.

Some parents choose schools because of the specialized education they offer, including arts, engineering, or advanced placement. 

The different programs offered by Marion County high schools are the subject of most of the school choice applications that MCPS see, Christian explained.

While Belleview High offers the Cambridge AICE program, Dunnellon offers the Power Generation Academy and West Port offers the Early College Program, as well as the Marion County Center for the Arts program.

Marion County’s School Choice option is a well-received incentive for students and parents, barring there’s room to make it happen.

“The caveat is the receiving school, where they want to go to school, has to have room for them,” said Christian.

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