Two teenage exchange students who arrived in the Triad to find their plans to attend school here had fallen through will get to attend High Point Central High School after all.
The decision Thursday by Guilford County Schools to accept the students, who start classes Friday, ends an impasse of sorts between the district and the nonprofit organization sponsoring the students. The school year started Monday for most district students.
The dispute centered around the host family's address, which is just barely over the county line in Davidson County, and outside High Point Central's attendance zone. That's a fact the school district didn't catch before it approved the students to attend. The district had maintained the students must live in the attendance zone in order to attend the school, but relented on Thursday.
"We are going to welcome these students with open arms and fix our procedural error that caused this situation," said Tony Watlington, the district's chief of schools. He said he had offered an apology to the host family.
Dudine and Ronald Jean-Louis, who live in High Point, signed up to take two teenage boys, one from South Korea and one from China, for the 2019-20 school year.
NorthWest Student Exchange, a Seattle-based nonprofit, received signed forms from High Point Central in June approving the students to attend there, and follow-up confirmation in late July, according to the group's executive director Jeff Laband. He said the forms contained the family's address.
Then, earlier this month, with the students' tickets already purchased, Laband said, the district called the host family to let them know their home is in Davidson County Schools. They said the students couldn't attend High Point Central if they don't live in the school's attendance zone, he said. A small part of High Point is in Davidson County and zoned to attend the county system there.
Davidson County Schools, he said, told them they couldn't take the students either because they were full. By the time Laband said he received an email on Aug. 20 confirming that the students had been denied to attend Guilford County Schools, they had already arrived in High Point.
Dudine Jean-Louis said on Wednesday the two teenage boys had been staying at home with her mother-in-law and college-age son. She said she encouraged them to read books and take walks, rather than playing video games or staying on their computers.
"That’s not the experience they signed up for," she said before learning the district had reversed course. "It’s heartbreaking to keep saying, 'I’m sorry, I don’t have an answer.'"
Laband, who was still trying to figure out a solution for the students, contacted the News & Record on Wednesday about the situation. On Thursday, after a call from the News & Record seeking information on the status of the case, school officials called Laband and Jean-Louis to let them know the students could attend school starting Friday.
Watlington said the district made the decision Thursday. He said it is now clear that with the first days of the semester ticking away, the exchange organization wasn't able to secure another placement or school for the students to attend.
He said a staff member did not catch that the host family's High Point address is not in Guilford County. The district is looking to review and adjust procedures to make sure addresses in that situation are flagged prior to any agreement being signed.
He stressed that Guilford County Schools enthusiastically welcomes exchange students.
"We’ve been doing this for years," he said of hosting exchange students. "This is the first time I’ve seen an error like this; it was certainly not intentional or willful."
Laband said he heard from both Watlington and Chief of Staff Nora Carr on Thursday and praised them for resolving the situation.
He said he believes the district now understands that no one was trying to improperly place a student in the district and that it was all just an honest mistake.
"They took the time to look at everything and go the extra mile," he said. "Basically, from one educator to another, I very much appreciate that they took a look at the whole situation."