LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The Little Rock School District has extended open enrollment for the next school year.

New students and current students, who want to enroll in magnet and specialty schools, can register until Jan. 11

During the registration period, the district posted three reminders on its website, which drew criticism from a state lawmaker and some parents. 

For the first time in the 30-year history of magnet programs at Parkview Arts and Science Magnet High School, all applicants for the ninth grade have to audition in their areas of interest, from music to dance to science.

“If you really want to refine your piano, your ability to be a pianist, then you’ve got to have some sort of background there,” said Superintendent Mike Poore. “You can’t just all of a sudden say, ‘I’m going to start right now.'” 

According to the website, Parkview’s administration team will choose half the students based on their auditions, while a random lottery will decide the other half.

“That’s really rare because you have to go through some sort of testing environment in most places,” Poore said. 

At Forest Heights STEM Academy, Kindergarten applicants have to undergo a screening before entering the lottery.

“I wasn’t the superintendent at that time, but parents asked for a level of rigor and having high expectations,” Poore said. “So that’s what was generated at that time and has really been in place there over the last four, five years.” 

Little Rock students also have to be identified as gifted and talented before entering the random lottery for those programs at Central High School and Dunbar Magnet Middle School.

One state lawmaker who represents Little Rock has been taking notes on the district for years, and she said it isn’t passing in her book.

“The reason we have school is for kids to learn, not for them to show up already ready,” said St. Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock. “That’s going to leave so many kids out who have great possibilities, but we’ll never know it because we set these standards or whatever you want to call them so that certain kids never get the opportunity. And they certainly aren’t going to get them if they don’t have motivated parents.” 

Sen. Elliott made it clear she doesn’t want to get rid of magnet schools but will fight to make the district more inclusive.

“It doesn’t take a genius to see the inequity, I don’t think,” she said. “Where was the collaboration to decide to make these changes? Who did it? How was the community involved? How were parents involved?”

Poore said traditional schools are just as important to the district.

“We want to have those all be successful and be great learning environments for each of our kids,” he said.

However, Poore noted there are different standards students have to meet at magnet schools. 

“If you are in a magnet area, such as a performing arts area, then you have to show a level of proficiency in that area,” he said. “We’re not saying C and higher or B and higher like many places throughout the country. We’re just simply saying you can’t be failing. If you’re failing in your magnet, then you may need to go back to your traditional school.”

Elliott argues traditional schools are not afforded that option.

“If I’m teaching at Fair and one of my students is failing, I don’t get to send them someplace else,” she said. “It’s my responsibility to get with that kid or their parents and do what I can do. I don’t get to send them off to some other school… I think we have to be better than that.” 

Once open enrollment closes Jan. 11, students should find out what school they got in to by the end of the month.