With Thursday marking the deadline for Oregon schools to decide on open enrollment policies, Ashland stands as the only school district in Jackson County to embrace the legislation.

With Thursday marking the deadline for Oregon schools to decide on open enrollment policies, Ashland stands as the only school district in Jackson County to embrace the legislation.

The open enrollment law, passed during the 2011 session of the Oregon Legislature, allows a district to open its doors and accept out-of-district students without permission from their home districts. Previously, both districts had to approve a transfer.

Other school district officials locally have called the legislation rushed and said they wanted to wait at least a year before changing their transfer policies. Ashland, which cited years of declining enrollment, agreed to adopt the policy now.

"Ashland really had to look at what was best for Ashland," said Samuel Bogdanove, Ashland's director of student services. "Some districts have been selective in allowing some transfers. Open enrollment bypasses a board's ability to say no."

According to Bogdanove, many students who have expressed interest in transferring to Ashland have parents who work in Ashland but live in the Phoenix-Talent or Medford districts. Bogdanove said open enrollment also makes transferring easier than in the past, as students who transfer will become permanent students in their new district, when previously they had to reapply for permission to transfer each year.

"It's a huge convenience factor for families," Bogdanove said.

Central Point schools opted out of open enrollment, after Superintendent Randy Gravon said many districts had uncertainties about the law and little time to analyze it.

"We had reservations about the way it's currently structured," said Gravon. "There are still a lot of unknowns related to the current law."

The Central Point School District board voted against changing its transfer policy during a meeting Feb. 21, choosing to wait another year to see how the law plays out elsewhere.

Gravon said though he understood why Ashland voted in favor of the policy because of declining enrollment, he said Central Point and Ashland had transferred students in the past without issue.

"Very few times do we deny transfers," said Gravon. "We haven't denied anyone a transfer to Ashland."

Gravon said that if a bordering district such as Medford had voted in favor of open enrollment, he would have been more inclined to support the legislation.

"It may be down the road that we are forced to do it," said Gravon. "If districts go to open enrollment, it sort of forces everyone around to do it."

Students now have until April 1 to apply to a district with open enrollment for consideration for the 2012-13 school year. By May 1, districts with open enrollment must let students know whether they have secured an open spot. If too many students apply for the available slots, a lottery will be held to determine who can make the transfer.

The Medford School Board voted against open enrollment earlier in February, taking a recommendation from Superintendent Phil Long, who said the district had no issues with its current transfer policy.

Citing staffing and resources as concerns, the Eagle Point School Board also voted against open enrollment Jan. 18, following the recommendation of Superintendent Cynda Rickert.

"We currently have an interdistrict transfer policy that works very well for us," said Rickert during the January meeting. "Students can come to our district, or leave our district if need be."

Rickert reminded the board members that they would have to vote on open enrollment annually for the next four years.

Phoenix-Talent voted against changing its transfer policy during a Feb. 16 meeting, with Rick Nagel the only board member expressing reservations.

Nagel said he was concerned about losing students to neighboring Ashland, but supported the board's decision.

"I would hate to see a departure of any of our students," said Nagel. "If any district would be affected, it would be ours."

Nagel said although Ashland was the only district locally to adopt an open enrollment policy, he did not think the choice reflected poorly on Phoenix-Talent's neighboring district.

"They're announcing to the world that they're willing to accept new students," said Nagel. "I appreciate why Ashland did vote the way that they did."

Teresa Ristow is a reporter for the Mail Tribune. Reach her at 541-776-4459 or tristow@mailtribune.com.