It’s the beginning of the fall season and your favorite apparel store is having a sale. You promptly go in and buy yourself a few key pieces to enhance this season’s wardrobe. But when you get home, there isn’t much space in your closet – so you re-organize your closet so that all your clothes fit better. Each year, school districts find themselves in the predicament of having to re-organize their attendance areas so that their schools’ enrollment are evenly distributed.
A school attendance area is also known as a school boundary
In Fairfax County, each public school has a defined attendance area called a School Boundary. This means that each school serves a specific group of homes which belong to that school’s boundary. Because there is a high, a middle, and an elementary school assigned to each home, a home can belong to up to three boundaries:
- the High school boundary,
- the Middle school boundary, and
- the Elementary school boundary
In Fairfax County, the enforcement of the school boundaries is very strict and there are only a few exceptions where children are allowed to attend a different public school than the one their home is assigned to.
Fairfax County School boundaries, while strict, are also somewhat fluid
Practically every year, there is some change to the attendance areas to some schools. While some schools keep a consistent boundary through many years, other schools’ attendance areas get adjusted more often.
School boundaries change mostly because of school populations
Sometimes, some schools are over-populated and others are under-populated, so the attendance areas are modified to allow for the populations in the schools to even out. For example, the Annandale High School boundary changed recently due to over-population. In this case, entire neighborhoods got re-assigned to adjacent attendant areas. Other times, schools require significant repairs and they need to be closed either temporarily or for a longer period of time. In this case, the kids who used to go to that school will have to be re-assigned to nearby schools. The good news is that these re-assignments come with advance notice.
Some boundary adjustments take months and even years to be made official
In order to make an adjustment official, there is a set process to discuss, evaluate different scenarios, get input from the community, and finally get the school board to make a decision. Because of this evaluation process, boundaries don’t change all that often. Sure, there are some boundary changes at the start of almost every school year, but these only affect a few boundaries at a time and the next year, chances are that other boundaries will be the ones being adjusted.
How do these boundary adjustments affect homeowners who choose a home based on a favorite school?
In the grand scheme of things, most homes aren’t affected by a boundary adjustment. And even when they are, it happens only once in a while. In case of an adjustment, the good news is that since schools in Fairfax County are highly rated, the quality of education stays fairly consistent across schools, especially adjacent ones. So a school assignment change shouldn’t affect the quality of the kids education very much. However, when a change happens, there is bound to be some disappointment. Mostly, children worry that they will be going to a new school where they have no friends. But the way that boundary adjustments are made usually affect entire neighborhoods. For the most part, kids will transfer schools with their neighbors and once they realize this, they usually feel ok about the change.
For example, the Annandale High School attendance area got adjusted recently
In this case, an entire elementary school boundary got re-assigned from “feeding” into Annandale High School to Edison High School. As you can see, kids from this elementary school stay with familiar faces along their path through elementary school and all the way to high school.
So, what’s the point of choosing a school and then a home if the boundary may change?
The chances of a boundary changing are relatively small, and when there is a change, there is enough advance notice about it. So if you have a preference for attending a school based on a special program, for example, it’s best to find a home within its boundary because chances are that school assignment will be consistent for a very long time. If the boundary does change, it’s most likely that the home will belong to a neighboring school – not one on the other side of the County.
- A school boundary is a school’s attendance area.
- Fairfax County school boundaries are strict (there is no open enrollment).
- School boundaries can change because of a school’s population projection.
- School boundary adjustments don’t happen often for each school.
- Choosing a home by school is a good idea because chances are that the boundary for that particular school assignment won’t change much – and if it does change, there will be enough advance notice.
If you are planning a move into the area, remember to “like” our Facebook page where we post news of boundary changes and resources. Image by Kalavinka on Flickr