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Transfer student bill, applicable to Duquesne children, nears final OK

Gov. Ed Rendell likely will sign legislation ensuring Duquesne high school students can continue to attend classes in the East Allegheny and West Mifflin districts as long as the bill passes legal muster, his spokesman said Tuesday.

“As long as it says what we think it says, he is inclined to sign it,” said Rendell’s spokesman, Gary Tuma.

The Senate bill amends language in 2007 legislation that the state Supreme Court ruled as unconstitutional Sept. 30 because the wording was so narrow that it could apply only to Duquesne students.

“This bill would help to ensure Duquesne high school students … know where they’ll be graduating high school and future students will have access to good schools,” Rep. Bill Kortz, D-Dravosburg, who co-sponsored the legislation, said in a written statement. The bill passed the House on Monday.

The first class of freshmen to enroll in East Allegheny and West Mifflin are seniors this year. After the court’s ruling, East Allegheny and West Mifflin officials said they were committed to educating Duquesne students through the end of the school year, a position they reiterated yesterday.

“Part of education is establishing a relationship with kids and making them feel like they’re going to be part of something for a while,” said East Allegheny Assistant Superintendent Gary Peiffer. The district educates about 65 Duquesne students. “It’s been rewarding to see the kids improve, and we hope to continue in that, and keep trying to build on our relationship with Duquesne and the kids.”

Duquesne students’ reading and math scores on the Pennsylvania System of Student Assessment test improved markedly since they began attending East Allegheny and West Mifflin, according to state data released in September.

“I think they’re appreciative of the opportunity given to them,” said Mark Hoover, principal of West Mifflin High School, which educates 165 Duquesne students. “And I think the vast majority of them have made the most of it.”

Duquesne City School District closed its high school in 2007, citing declining enrollment and the financial inability to offer a range of programs. Ensuing legislation sent students to East Allegheny and West Mifflin and required districts within a 10-mile radius to fill teacher vacancies with furloughed Duquesne educators if they qualified.

East Allegheny, West Mifflin and South Allegheny jointly filed a lawsuit challenging the law.

The amended bill removes the hiring requirement and broadens language to allow the Department of Education to transfer students in any third-class school district, such as Duquesne, operating under a special board of control that closed its high school. Students must attend neighboring school districts within 3 miles.

Third-class school districts draw from populations of 5,000 to 30,000.

Education Department spokesman Steve Weitzman said the agency is reviewing the legislation.

Linda Hippert, executive director of Allegheny Intermediate Unit, which oversees Duquesne’s remaining K-8 school, said the AIU is pleased with the timeliness of the changes.

“We think this is extremely positive because putting it out now shows the Legislature’s concern for students to receive a quality education,” she said.


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