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Does Highland Park ISD Lack Full “Inclusiveness”?

Education, Featured

HPISD facility building. | Image from HPISD

In December, the Highland Park Independent School District (HPISD) will have its annual “Inclusive Schools Week” (‘ISW’). The district’s celebration has raised the question of how inclusive the district is when it comes to students outside the ISD boundaries.

Dallas Express previously interviewed HPISD’s Chief of Staff and Director of Communications Jon Dahlander about the district’s upcoming ‘ISW.’ He avoided our questions about how many grievances he and HPISD received from anyone feeling unincluded, what student or student group was not feeling included, and what specific problem(s) ‘ISW’ will solve.

On October 22, Dallas Express sent an open records request to HPISD, requesting from 2015 to present “all grievances filed against HPISD and/or HPISD staff for lack of inclusiveness.”
Five days later, in response, Dahlander said “we have not had any grievances filed against HPISD or HPISD staff for lack of inclusiveness.”
While outwardly celebrating “inclusiveness,” the district doesn’t appear to be inclusive to others outside its geographic area.
Dallas Express asked Dahlander about HPISD’s standing policy regarding accepting students from other ISDs, which is lawful in Texas.

“In order to attend HPISD schools, students must live within the geographic boundaries of the school district,” he told Dallas Express. “With the exception of staff members whose children are allowed to attend HPISD schools (and there are about 60 transfer students this year), HPISD has historically not allowed inter-district transfers.”

We asked Dahlander why HPISD doesn’t allow students outside the district to attend, as reportedly Dallas ISD does.

“HPISD is not an open-enrollment school district,” he replied. “Consistent with state law outlined in FD Legal, students must live within the geographic boundaries of the school district in order to attend HPISD schools.”

However, it’s also consistent with state law to allow students outside the district’s geographic boundaries to enroll.  He did not state why the HPISD Trustees have refused to adopt a policy similar to neighboring DISD.

“Again, with the exception of staff members whose children are allowed to attend HPISD schools, HPISD has historically not allowed inter-district transfers.”

During our initial interview, Dahlander said that for the 2020-2021 school year, there were 6,648 students enrolled at DISD. We asked Dahlander what HPISD’s maximum capacity is for students and how many more students they could accept.

His reply revealed the district could accept more than 2,700 additional students. “Thanks to voters in HPISD who approved a $361 million bond election in 2015 that HPISD taxpayers—not residents of other communities—are still paying for, HPISD now has the capacity to serve 9,430 students who meet district residency requirements.”

However, in truth, HPISD can serve 9,430 students, regardless of the district’s residency requirements. And if HPISD accepted students from outside the district, state funds allocated to those students would move with the students and flow to HPISD instead of their home district. The HPISD Trustees have just chosen not to be ‘inclusive’ with students outside of the district.

Note: This article was updated on November 17, 2021, at 5:14 pm to include additional information.