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The Arkansas Board of Education on Thursday granted three appeals for students who live in the Midland School District to attend school elsewhere.

The Midland School District is based in Pleasant Plains in Independence County.

Midland rejected the applications because the district had already hit the 3% limit for School Choice Act transfers to other districts, Superintendent Bruce Bryant told the board in a meeting that was streamed live online.

At the beginning of the meeting, Bryant said the school district was already losing a net of 16 students to such transfers, which is one more than is allowed under the School Choice Act. The school district has a total enrollment of 495, according to a document in the meeting package.

If the standard becomes for all appeals to be granted, that puts small districts like Midland at a disadvantage, said Bryant, who took over as superintendent July 1. Previously, he was an administrator at Crowley's Ridge College in Paragould.

"It will be draining on our small district," Bryant told the board. "We're trying our best to stay afloat and provide the education that students need."

In a telephone interview after the meeting, Bryant said the Midland district receives about 40 requests a year from parents who want their children to attend school in a different district.

"I have six students who are transferring into our district," he said.

Some parents cited Midland's academic performance as a reason they wanted their children to attend a different school.

"Midland is not a choice for us because they have a D-rating," Amy Warren told the board. "I need my kids to go to something that's not a D-rated school."

Pangburn, in White County, has a B rating and offers a "flex schedule," Warren wrote in a May 29 letter to the state board requesting an appeal.

"We would support this family if they were able to attend our school," David Rolland, superintendent of the Pangburn School District, told the board.

The board voted unanimously to allow Warren's two children -- 10th- and 11th-graders -- to transfer from the Midland district to Pangburn, 19 miles southwest of Pleasant Plains. The children had previously attended school in Concord, which is 17 miles northwest of Pleasant Plains.

After the meeting, Bryant said Midland is trying to improve its D rating from the state.

"We're implementing things to try to change that and try to make it better," he said.

Bryant said Midland may have already improved that rating, but year-end assessments weren't done last spring because of the coronavirus pandemic.

On Thursday, the state board also approved Amy Bridges' appeal to allow her daughter to begin kindergarten in the White County Central School District instead of Midland.

Bridges told the board that the White County schools, based in Judsonia, are more convenient for her geographically -- a 10-mile drive versus 32 miles to Midland Elementary School in Floral.

"Our residence is approximately 0.2 miles from the White County Central School District line," she wrote in a June 1 letter requesting the appeal.

Bridges also cited higher test scores at the White County schools as compared with Midland.

White County accepted Bridges' application for her daughter to attend school there.

"This year we have lost what would be an entire class of kindergartners to school choice," Bryant told the board in his argument against the transfer. "This is detrimental to Midland Public Schools in relation to our financial position to continue to allow students above the 3% cap to be released to other districts."

After the meeting, Bryant said he didn't disagree with the board's decisions Thursday.

"I do think the state board listened to those students, the parents and considered the needs of those students, and responded to the testimony today," he said. "There's still some fear from me that we're going to rubber stamp appeals."

The board also approved the transfer of a student from the Guy-Perkins School District to Greenbrier. Both school districts are in Faulkner County.

Andrew Estep told the board that the family built a new house only to learn later that it's about 20 yards outside the Greenbrier School District, where his son had attended school.

Guy-Perkins wouldn't "release" the second-grader to attend Greenbrier, so Andrew and Samantha Estep decided to home-school him last year, according to a letter they sent to the state board.

The boy is ready to go back to Greenbrier schools, his father told the board Thursday.

They applied for a transfer in January, but it was denied because Guy-Perkins had already reached its 3% transfer cap, according to a letter that Greenbrier Superintendent Scott Spainhour sent the Esteps on May 26.

Greenbrier has room to accept the transfer, Spainhour told the board Thursday.

"I just want them to know we will take him, love him and help him to grow the best we can," said Spainhour.

The Esteps' appeal was denied at a state board meeting earlier this month because nobody made a motion to approve it.

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