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Portland Public Schools votes to limit school choice for incoming high school students

The district said growing disparities in diversity and enrollment between Deering High School and Portland High School necessitated a limitation to free choice.

PORTLAND, Maine — Portland Public Schools board members voted Tuesday night to limit incoming high schoolers' freedom to choose between Portland and Deering High Schools. 

The decades-long tradition of admitting students to their desired school will now be slightly altered for freshmen starting in the 2023/24 school year.

Now, students graduating eighth grade in Portland Public Schools will have to rank the schools they want to attend. Once students apply, the district will adjust the final assignments to balance out enrollment and diversity gaps the district noticed in recent years.

"This has been an ongoing conversation for a number of years," Superintendent Xavier Botana said. "We are the most diverse school district in the state of Maine, and a big part of who we are is having the opportunity to learn side by side with someone who has incredibly different world views than you have."

The school district said there is a gap in enrollment that shows nearly 200 more students attending Portland High than Deering High. Data also shows Portland has fewer students of color than Deering.

Botana also said more teachers have vacated Deering, and the school can no longer afford similar resources to Portland.

Community members at a previous school board meeting voiced concern for the proposal, which would alter a decades-long tradition of allowing students to attend whichever school they want to attend.

Parents and community members also criticized the board for not taking more time on the subject.

"There can always be more outreach, and there can always be more process ... we've tried over the last couple of months for people to weigh in," Botana said.

The resolution passed 5-2 and will start for students enrolling in the 2023/24 school year.

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